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Contrarians, Crackpots, and Consensus


Last week we discussed whether Gary Taubes gets to be admitted to the small but prestigious pantheon of correct contrarians. And the strange part was that there was a lot less argument about how correct he was than about how contrarian he was.

Taubes’ main theory – that low-carb diets could solve the obesity epidemic – hasn’t fared the test of time very well. But some of his supporting points have. Large parts of mainstream nutrition science have eased up on dietary cholesterol, dropped the recommendation against fat, gotten tougher on sugar, and accepted that the science should focus on how to regulate complex satiety mechanisms rather than just counting calories. Given how hard it is to fight the scientific consensus and win, even those few minor victories would potentially be remarkable.

The counterargument is that these are other people’s ideas and he gets no credit for them. Suppose David Icke says that the Queen is a lizard person, and also that the royal family is secretly descended from German nobles and isn’t British at all. A hundred years from now his readers celebrate his genius: although he got the lizard part wrong, the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha theory was remarkably prescient!

If Icke’s book spends just as much time arguing for the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha theory as for the lizard theory, all while inveighing against some supposed consensus of anti-Saxe-Coburg experts, we can imagine the far future finding him pretty impressive, since they might not have done the historical work necessary to realize everyone knew of the Queen’s foreign origins all along. Even though the Queen’s German descent sounds shocking, and even though the average British person probably isn’t aware of it, and even though it’s something nobody really likes to talk about – doesn’t mean Icke “discovered” it in any interesting way. He’s not prescient, he just sometimes reads Wikipedia in between his bizarre ravings.

Thing is, even though the 1990s were like twenty years ago and pretty well-documented, people have had a surprisingly hard time coming to agreement on how novel Taubes’ ideas were back then.

They certainly weren’t perfectly novel – Taubes himself tries to claim he’s just relaying ideas from scientists and researchers to the public, and even his most controversial theories come from other people like Dr. Atkins. And they certainly weren’t perfectly well-known – everyone has a story of their doctor or dietician or something telling them “just eat low-fat foods, cut back on cholesterol, and count calories”. But there seems to be a lot of room in between those two poles.

This is starting to remind me of another debate I got stuck in recently – my argument with Rob Wipond about the serotonergic theory of depression. Wipond argued that psychiatrists irresponsibly promoted a narrative in which depression was a simple serotonin deficiency and so taking Prozac would quickly and elegantly solve the problem. I told him that actually, no, the psychiatric community wasn’t saying that at all, which was why every single example he thought he could find of that turned out to be a garbled out-of-context quote which when investigated honestly was clearly saying the opposite. I got a lot of angry comments that no, people were very sure their doctor had told them that depression was a simple serotonin deficiency.

I think a lot of things are getting obscured by the term “scientific establishment” or “scientific consensus”. Imagine a pyramid with the following levels from top to bottom:

FIRST, specialist researchers in a field. So for example the people doing studies on the effect of dietary cholesterol, or the people dissecting monkey brains to see how much serotonin is in them. These people always have the latest cutting-edge experimental results and a good knowledge of the issues involved in the field.

SECOND, non-specialist researchers in a broader field. Nutrition scientists in general. The guy who is interested in Vitamin B, but goes to the same conferences as the guys studying cholesterol. The research psychiatrist working on schizophrenia, but who maintains a keen interest in what her colleagues over in the depression lab are doing. They know enough about the broad principles of the field to be able to understand and evaluate new ideas more quickly than everybody else, but they still only learn about them the same way everyone else does – by waiting for the specialist researchers to tell them.

THIRD, the organs and administrators of a field who help set guidelines. The head of the USDA who’s in charge of looking over the Food Pyramid to make sure it’s accurate. The APA Committee for deciding exactly what wording to use in the guidelines on depression treatment. The head of Harvard Medical School who has to decide what to put in the curriculum. The editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, who has to decide what gets published.

FOURTH, science journalism, meaning everyone from the science reporters at the New York Times to the guys writing books with titles like The Antidepressant Wars to random bloggers.

ALSO FOURTH IN A DIFFERENT COLUMN OF THE PYRAMID BECAUSE THIS IS A HYBRID GREEK PYRAMID THAT HAS COLUMNS, “fieldworkers”, aka the professionals we charge with putting the research into practice. In nutrition this is doctors and dieticians, who directly inform their patients what to eat. In education research this could be teachers and principals who directly decide how classes will get taught. In sociology it might be the police chief trying to institute a new crime-fighting program. Et cetera.

FIFTH, the general public.

A lot of these issues make a lot more sense in terms of different theories going on at the same time on different levels of the pyramid. I get the impression that in the 1990s, the specialist researchers, the non-specialist researchers, and the organs and administrators were all pretty responsible about saying that the serotonin theory was just a theory and only represented one facet of the multifaceted disease of depression. Science journalists and prescribing psychiatrists were less responsible about this, and so the general public may well have ended up with an inaccurate picture.

Likewise, when Taubes published his book, the ideas he wrote about (at least the correct ones) seem to have been accepted by some specialist researchers, known only as vague inklings among non-specialist researchers, poorly reflected at all in the official dietary guidelines, totally new to the world of journalism, totally new to doctors (who mostly still haven’t gotten the message), and totally new to the general public.

This whole process gets even more complicated when you consider enemy action. In psychiatry, drug companies have established defensive chokeholds at various points on the pyramid, trying to promote pro-pharmaceutical results and sink anti-pharmaceutical ones. This isn’t a far-out conspiracy theory – practically every psychiatrist agrees it’s true to some degree, which is why there are so many conflict-of-interest laws to try to minimize the damage. The only debate is whether we’ve successfully contained it to a small effect, or whether it’s hopelessly contaminated the entire process (I tend to lean more toward the optimistic side; for a true pessimist, read Dr. Nardo). The same is true in nutrition, where a lot of studies are sponsored by groups with names like ‘The United Dairy Farmers Council’ or ‘The League For Wheat’. Even when there aren’t official lobbyists, political opinion plays a big part: the social science journals are full of studies that very competently show that certain politically popular ideas are bunk; by the time they reach the ears of voters and policymakers this has mysteriously been transformed into “scientists agree with you that these politically popular ideas need much more funding”. When you have a block in the process like this, the specialist researchers, the non-specialists, the guideline-makers, the fieldworkers, and the public can all remain on totally different pages for a surprisingly long time.

Taubes – and some of the people making the most noise about the serotonin theory of depression – seem to be people trying to transfer knowledge from the highest levels of the pyramid all the way down to the base, skipping over the levels in between. Does that make them contrarians playing Galileo to a hidebound establishment, or responsible science journalists relaying the establishment’s ideas more faithfully and efficiently than their predecessors? Your opinion probably depends on what narrative suits your purpose at any given time.


I think of some of the contrarians who seem to have their heads screwed on straight. Irving Kirsch and Robert Whitaker on antidepressants. Cochran and Harpending on recent human evolution. Judith Rich Harris on parenting. Nick Bostrom on superintelligence.

I don’t agree with all these people, I’ve even written long rants against some of them. But they seem to be of a different breed than crackpots like creationists and parapsychologists and anti-vaxxers. It’s hard to specify how. It’s not just credentialed expertise. Michael Behe and Daryl Bem are both professors, and Andrew Wakefield was an MD who’d done previous published immunological research, but their work falls squarely in the ‘crackpot’ column.

But one thing I do notice about these virtuous contrarians – their reception is surprisingly quiet. We know creationism is wrong partly because half the evolutionary biologists in the world have written books about why creationism is wrong, which they advertise prominently on their blogs about why creationism is wrong. Where are all the developmental psychologists shouting down Judith Rich Harris? I’ve seen a few very specialized psychiatrists argue against Kirsch, but never very heatedly, and usually while granting many of his points. The majority of the profession? Never heard of him and don’t care.

When I first became interested in AI risk around 2007, people told me that no legitimate AI experts were seriously worried. I checked and at the time that was mostly true. On the other hand, no legitimate AI experts were specifically not worried either. AI risk just wasn’t their area, and they were perfectly happy to ignore it and concentrate on things that were. There are two types of “no evidence”, and this was the entirely neutral one. It seemed like a very different situation than vaccines causing autism. There, too, experts in the field aren’t worried – but they’re not worried because every single one of them has an opinion and the opinion is “NO”.

(Sure enough, since then a lot more AI researchers have become interested, in exactly the sort of sea change I don’t expect to see mirrored in the autism field.)

The crackpots seem to be met with violent opposition. The virtuous contrarians seem to be met with – well, almost boredom. No one is particularly interested in adopting their ideas, but no one is particularly interested in arguing against them either.

(on the other hand, Time Cube Guy is met with boredom by serious astronomers, either because he’s too small to be noticed or too small to be worth refuting, so it’s not like it’s a great heuristic)

A while ago, I was reading some stuff about the role of choline in the brain, and I thought: “I wonder if anyone has ever used this to treat bipolar disorder”. Well, I searched the literature, and there was one very small study from 1996 in which choline apparently demonstrated excellent effect treating rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, which is otherwise quite difficult to treat. The study isn’t obscure – it seems to have been cited 110 times – but no one’s followed up on that and you could easily go your whole life studying psychiatry without running into any kind of choline-bipolar connection. It seems like a potentially important idea, which has small but nonzero evidence behind it, but which everyone nevertheless ignores, because it isn’t anybody’s business in particular. There are hundreds of things like this scattered across the literature in pretty much every field.

If I were to announce that small-minded scientists were ignoring the result of their own research and covering up The Truth About Choline, possibly at the behest of lizard-people…well, I could certainly do it in a crackpottish way if I wanted to. But I’d be interesting. I wouldn’t be trivially wrong in the same sense as the homeopath who doesn’t care that all biologists disagree with them.

Thomas Kuhn categorized scientific progress into everyday advances and “paradigm shifts”, the latter being major reconceptualizations like the one between geocentrism and heliocentrism, or from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics.

If I understand right – everyone is doing science, and occasionally they come up with something that doesn’t make sense. Whatever. Half the time people come up with things that don’t make sense, and it usually just means your neutrino speedometer is miscalibrated. They either refuse to publish, because no point in publishing nonsense, or they publish, everyone says “Huh, that’s funny”, and they continue doing what they’re doing. The view of science presented to students in the field, and the one that the luminaries of the field think in most of the time, is the one made up of all of the nice consistent results that make sense, with the noise abstracted away.

Then somebody looks a little closer and sees a pattern in the noise. The studies and ideas everyone else was ignoring actually tell a consistent story which is more plausible than the grand narrative of the field which everyone else is working off of. They propose a new paradigm. There is some fighting and eventually it is determined to be superior to the old one, which is jettisoned in its favor.

Someone does a study on Tibetans and says “it looks like they’re adapted to their mountain environment, but that would require really fast evolution, which we all know practically never happens, so it’s probably some weird fluke.” Someone does a study on Indo-Europeans and says “it looks like they have unique lactose tolerance, but that would require really fast evolution, which we all know practically never happens, so it’s probably some weird fluke.” Someone does a study on Ashkenazi Jews and says “it looks like they have higher-than-average intelligence, but that would require really fast evolution, which we all know practically never happens, so it’s probably some weird fluke.” Then Cochran and Harpending and a few others take a sweeping view of everything, and say “OR WHAT IF REALLY FAST EVOLUTION IS HAPPENING PRETTY MUCH ALL THE TIME?!” They’re not exactly pulling this discovery ex nihilo, but they’re taking what might be the private opinion of a couple of isolated specialist researchers who might not have known one another, synthesizing all the evidence together, and saying the thing nobody else wanted to mention.

One way to be a contrarian without being a crackpot seems to be trying to start these sorts of paradigm shifts. Indeed, I notice that they are often people with enough expertise to understand a field who nevertheless acquired that expertise outside of the field itself. For example, Kirsch is a psychologist, as opposed to the psychiatrists and biochemists who usually deal with antidepressant drugs. Cochran is a physicist by training, although he somehow ended up as an anthropology professor. Harris was pursuing a psychology PhD but quit for health reasons and did most of her research independently. Bostrom is a philosopher, and so has license to stick his finger in pretty much whatever pots he wants.

(Whitaker is a journalist. So is Gary Taubes – and, for that matter, Steve Sailer. Science journalism seems like a good example of how somebody can learn a lot about a field while still having an outsider perspective on it)

At their best, these people can look at a field, find ideas that have been excluded from the narrative, and create a new narrative around them. Sometimes this goes horribly wrong – this is how I think of Graham Hancock, also a journalist, who took every weird archaeological discovery and mysterious ancient monument and fit them together into a brilliant, wacky, but ultimately completely bonkers narrative of ancient supercivilizations. It also seems to be how Taubes blundered into his low-carb fanaticism.

So this can sort of be a red flag. But it’s a much less glaring red flag than when people like homeopaths or anti-vaxxers believe they have discovered a new effect, and continue to maintain it exists despite real scientists’ insistence that it doesn’t.

And these are the people who are most likely to get caught in the trap mentioned in Part I. If they’re doing their job right, all they’re doing is calling increased attention to certain results in the field. They’re not the first people to mention that there’s some evidence for recent human evolution. They might not even be the first people to publish a review paper collecting a bunch of different examples of recent human evolution in one place. They’re the first people to be jerks about it, the first people to say “HEY, YOU WITH THE PARADIGM, YOU SUCK” and force all the lower levels of the pyramid – the non-specialists, the administrators, the fieldworkers, the journalists, and the public – to confront the new possibilities head-on.

But shouting “YOU SUCK” doesn’t win anybody any friends. Even if their side triumphs in the end, there will be many much more sober academics who were pushing it almost as effectively. And the same perversity of spirit that led contrarians to challenge the field where it was wrong will probably make them overshoot and challenge the field where it is right. Thus, Taubes not only says that fat has been unfairly demonized, but goes further and says that fat is great for you and you can stay at whatever weight you want just by eating fat. Kirsch and Whitaker not only say that antidepressants were less effective than previously believed, they say they’re worthless for most people and will poison you and psychotherapy is great. Judith Rich Harris not only says that quirks of parenting style don’t matter, she also minimizes the effects of divorce – which I think goes too far.

The likely outcome is pretty much what we’ve got. Even when contrarians win, they lose. Members of the field will be celebrated for being the ones who helped usher in the new paradigm. And the contrarians will be remembered as partisans of crazy false ideas, who happened to gain a thin veneer of credibility by also repeating some true stuff already known by domain experts.

(I’m very happy that brilliant AI researchers like Stuart Russell have joined the fight against AI risk. But I fully expect future textbooks to say that Russell is a great hero for discovering AI risk single-handedly, and also there were some weird guys in Berkeley who gained superficial credibility by parroting Russell’s theories, but were really just silly people writing fanfiction.)

John Baez’s Crackpot Index offers thirty points for “fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.”

And if you think you’re a true genius who will have the last laugh, the joke’s on you. You won’t get your show trials even if you’re right.

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424 Responses to Contrarians, Crackpots, and Consensus

  1. SSC fan says:

    What’s the super-pithy version of what Taubes got wrong? Neglecting the role of ghrelin? The microbiome? Long-term harm from high-fat diets?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      His whole point was that low-carb diets would help you lose weight, but they don’t seem to do that much more than any other kind of diet. I go into some more detail in Part II-D here.

      • Speedwell says:

        Scott, somewhat off topic, I notice that at your link you express frustration at going into the topic of the mechanisms of weight control “again”. Please note my heartfelt gratitude that you go into it so often.

      • Stezinech says:

        Here’s one review finding that low-carb diets are a bit better than low-fat diets:

        Most of the studies seem to be in this vein. Taubes is probably overstating the case that high carbohydrate content is the primary driver of the obesity epidemic.

        It could be playing a role, but the main problem with refined carbohydrate foods, as Scott pointed out, is that they are high calories.

        • onyomi says:

          They’re high in calories because they usually come with a lot of fat. White rice by itself is not high in calories.

          • Gbdub says:

            100g of steamed white rice has about 150 calories. 100g of chicken breast has about 165 calories.

            In general, pure protein and pure carbohydrates have about the same number of calories per gram. Fat has a bit more than twice the calories per gram.

            White rice is definitely not a low calorie food, unless you’re comparing it to pure fat.

          • Stezinech says:

            White rice is not the most salient example of refined carbohydrate though, despite everyone bringing it up.

            To respond to Gdub, 100g of corn syrup has 286 calories, and 100g of white sugar has 387 calories.

            I think these are the type of refined carbs that contribute to the obseity epidemic. Look at the all those foods with added corn syrup (or HFCS) and sugar. A lot of foods marketed as “low fat” have these additives.

          • gbdub says:

            White rice is brought up because many (e.g. onyomi) want to make the case that few fat Asians = carbs don’t make you fat.

            White rice isn’t super refined, but in common form it’s simpler than say whole grain wheat or barley or some of the other staple grains.

            Personal anecdote alert, but added sugars and super refined grains do seem to me to be less satiating, calorie for calorie, vs. foods consisting of mostly protein and/or fat. I’m less hungry at lunchtime with a breakfast of scrambled eggs vs. toast, even if the total calories are similar. So the “carbs bad” theories based on insulin response to various foods do ring true for me.

            If they are in fact true, then “eat as much as you want” could certainly result in very different calorie totals depending on food type, with tasty but not satisfying refined carbs being particulary pernicious. This isn’t exactly the “orange soda in the water supply” theory, because it doesn’t require the different insulin response to directly cause obesity via diabetes-like effects. But if it impacts appetite then it could still be a contributing factor.

        • Loquat says:

          I haven’t read Taubes, but most of what I’ve read online from low-carb proponents has claimed insulin resistance as the mechanism by which carbs make you fat.

          High carb consumption, especially refined carbs, especially combined with little to no exercise -> large spikes in insulin after eating -> insulin resistance -> obesity, diabetes, and various other bad health outcomes. Under this theory, unrefined carbs are less bad than refined carbs, but still bad, while eating fat doesn’t cause large changes in insulin levels and thus is fine.

          • onyomi says:

            Except most Asian city dwellers eat a ton of simple carbs every day, don’t exercise much, and are still skinny.

          • Stezinech says:

            @onyomi. See my comment above, Asian city dwellers don’t consume as much added sugar in their diets as Americans.


            @Loquat From what I can tell, what Scott calls the Clozaril-in-orange-soda model is the insulin resistance model. Taubes is a proponent.

            However, this model discounts the possibility that refined carbs may be bad primarily for their added calories, which is the point that Scott made (and I largely agree with).

          • onyomi says:

            I recommend this guy’s videos to anyone who is inclined toward the high fat diet:


            He is a little biased in the vegan direction, but he bases everything on actual studies, which I think makes him more believable than the vast majority of nutrition commentators.

            That said, the ketogenic diet may be very useful in certain unusual circumstances, such as epilepsy, or people who, for whatever reason, seem unable to lose weight any other way. But I don’t think it’s a healthy long-term strategy for most people.

          • Laowai says:

            Anecdotal evidence from living in China:

            People seem to barely ever eat between meals. The standard diet does involve 2 meals of rice and a litte vegetables and meat a day but portion sizes aren’t huge. There’s also no real desert course. Even imported sweet western food like ice cream is less sugary here to fit local tastes, and is served in smaller amounts.

            Obesity is a growing problem among the middle class though, seemingly due to ncreasingly westernised food, so genetic factors seem unlikely.

            People exercise more than you’d expect, due to low car use there’s much more walking than in an equivalent sized american city.

          • onyomi says:

            The lack of a culture of snacking seems to be a big factor, and the one to which most French people I’ve asked attribute their relative skinniness.

            In fact, strange as it may seem, the skinniness of the Chinese and the French may be an interesting point of comparison: both French and Chinese food tend to be rich: French food famously uses a lot of butter and cheese, and the Chinese use a lot of animal fat.

            Yet both eat a lot of starch with their fat, and the fat is often used, effectively as a flavoring for the starch, rather than the other way around: the Chinese use some thin slices of fatty pork as flavoring for a huge bowl of rice/noodles and vegetables, and the French eat a lot of bread.

            Perhaps more importantly, neither have a culture of snacking, and, in the French case, I think it is actively discouraged as almost like a character flaw. And I think people in general underestimate how much an eating “culture” can make a difference. People take cues from those around them. When my girlfriend worked at a company where she was among the thinnest female employees, she got fatter.

            When she lived with me in China for a bit, she got thinner. It wasn’t just subconscious: she noticed that whereas she had been average or below average size in the US, being in China made her feel fat, and as if her usual portion sizes were too large, so she cut back.

            And both Chinese and French walk and bike a lot more than the average American. Or, at least, they used to: as the Chinese buy more and more cars, I wouldn’t be surprised to see their obesity go up.

          • Ever An Anon says:

            Re Chinese snacking / deserts:

            My girlfriend is from Shanghai and her explanation was basically “after a good meal you shouldn’t be hungry for desert.” It’s pretty true, I’ll admit: since she started doing most of the cooking (I supposedly make “too much meat” when I cook) it’s rare for me to even think about snacks. Then again Shanghai folks have a sweet tooth so that could just be their regional food being closer to my American palette.

            As for Chinese people gaining weight on Western diets, go to a college campus and look at the FOB international students and compare them with the kids who have been here for one and four years. What I see is that they balloon out initially on dorm food and then lose it as soon as they start cooking for themselves again.

      • XVO says:

        All I know is that when I eat a low carb diet I lose weight, and when I eat a “normal” diet I gain weight. I’ve done it several times now over the past 2 years. Not intentionally experimenting with it, there’s something addictive to me about the “normal” diet, like smoking used to be, and I fall off the cart every now and then into my old habits.

        On the low carb diet I can eat as much as I want to not feel hungry, but on calorie restriction or low fat, I feel starved.

        • i need a nap says:

          A few thoughts and observations:

          Low carb diets work best for me. They tend to work best for my fitness enthusiast friends, too. The biggest difference is just how low you can go. Some people do great with almost no carbs, whereas others feel too sluggish. It’s pretty easy to slowly dial up carbs until you reach a comfortable point.

          Some people do great eating high carb diets. Those people, I’ve noticed, tend to be the same jerks that can get away with eating anything and not gaining a pound. Screw those people!


          I’ve spent an extended period of time in Tokyo. I would be interested in knowing just how many carbohydrates the average Japanese person actually eats in a day. Portion sizes are very small there (from my American perspective). People also walk a whole lot more. I gained zero weight in Tokyo despite not exercising.

          I’ve spent an even more extended period of time in Hawaii. The vast majority of the food I ate there was Asian fusion with a heavy Japanese influence. Portion sizes are through the roof. Rice is served in heaping spoonfuls at every meal. I exercised a lot in Hawaii and gained about 30 pounds. It was mostly fat.


          When I eat a lot of carbs, I actually get a LOT hungrier. I know I’m not alone in this and I’m surprised more people haven’t brought it up. This is very strange to me and it makes me wonder if people are spending too much time poring over studies rather than tinkering with their own diets to get an idea of how things really work. Which brings me to my next thought:

          I have this funny picture in my mind of a bunch of people sitting around going through studies and finding that *gasp* microtears and the healing that follows them might not actually be what causes muscles to grow. So they stop lifting weights until they figure out just what mechanism is responsible for their strength gains.

          Meanwhile, the Gold’s Gym is still packed with huge guys lifting heavy weights. Ask them what makes their muscles grow and they’ll tell you “pickin’ up heavy stuff.” And they’re right. And they’re not worrying about reading complicated theories on exactly why they’ve gotten to be so big and so strong.

          Not that there’s anything wrong with investigating the details! It’s just that sometimes doing so makes you lose track of how simple things can be.

          Speaking of simple things, has anyone ever heard of the paleo diet? I don’t know what mutant versions of it exist these days, but when I first read about it 7-8 years ago I immediately thought, “wow, here’s a diet you actually can’t argue with!” You eat meats, fish, nuts, fruits, berries…basically only unprocessed foods that are in the produce and meat sections of the grocery store. The idea is that these are the foods that our bodies are best suited for, since they were all our ancestors ate.


          After all the above boring thoughts, I have one final boring thought.

          If we’re interested in finding ways to cut through scientific literature to find the truth, then one very useful guideline, when it comes to complex biological systems, is that if you start messing with things after they’ve been stable for a very long time (like the human body) then you’re going to have problems. For the same reason that I can tell you that a lot of carbohydrates will *probably* cause you problems I can also tell you that pumping a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere is *probably* a bad idea, too.

          I feel like I regurgitated some Taleb in this post. I’d point out exactly where, but I can’t remember what ideas I wrote about that came from him.

          • onyomi says:

            “The idea is that these are the foods that our bodies are best suited for, since they were all our ancestors ate.”

            See, here’s my problem with this. Unless your parents are Aleutian Islanders, chances are your ancestors have been subsisting largely on grains and starches for 5-10,000 years. Look at all major civilizations: Egypt, Rome, China, Inca: they all have wheat, rice, corn, potatoes or something similar forming the bulk of the diet of the commoners, who probably get to eat meat a few times a month. But the commoners haven’t been fat for 10,000 years. They’ve only been fat for the past 50 years, when they started eating like kings: rich, fatty food and meat every day.

            I also have the experience of never getting fat in Japan, despite eating what subjectively seems to me to be a ton of food. But personally, I credit the low fat and the walking I did. But in either case, I think it proves that it isn’t *just* that the Japanese are genetically gifted in the not-getting-fat area, though I think they are somewhat.

            But then you look at Hawai’i and everyone’s fat, including, I believe the Hawai’ians of Japanese descent (though I do think the native Hawai’ians, like the Samoans who dominate the NFL do have “big” genes most Japanese don’t have). I am skeptical that it could just be the culture surrounding portion control, though maybe that’s part of it.

            I would bet that the Hawai’ian food has more meat, dairy, and oil added than the Japanese food, though I’ve never been there, so I can’t say. I do know that John McDougal, a leading proponent of the high starch, high carb, low fat diet, worked as a doctor in Hawai’i for a couple decades, and he said he witnessed a transformation in the people as the younger generation shifted from a diet consisting mostly of tubers, vegetables, and a little fish (very similar to the skinny and long-lived Okinawans, who ate a kind of sweet potato thing before they shifted to rice due to Japanese influence), to a more oily Americanish diet.

            Yes, added sugar is not good, but I don’t think it’s as much of a culprit as added fat, as I ate a lot of sweets in Japan (fat-free sweets, I might add) and never gained weight, but if I eat cookies I totally will.

            Highly processed and concentrated foods in general definitely are a big part of the problem, but I think people have way over villifyed carbs and that most of the “ancestral” justifications for it are not really scientific.

            If you want to eat ancestrally you pretty much need to eat all terrible tasting, fibrous vegetables, tough, lean meat, and some fruit. Don’t forget that even most “natural” foods we eat today have been selected for palatability by our ancestors, and that our GI evolution is more of a palimpsest than “one” thing.

            Thus, neither can one pinpoint any exact point in our evolution and say *that’s* the diet we were meant to have (we’re omnivores–we’re “meant” to eat what’s available), but even if you want to eat food like what one particular ancestor ate 20,000 years ago, you probably can’t: all our food has been selected to match our tastes. I do think, however, that eating more fiber and “anti-nutrients” (often bitter tasting compounds in some vegetables) can help, because they are what foods had more of before we selected them for deliciousness (i e low fiber, low bitter, high sugar, less tough meat, etc.)

          • HeelBearCub says:


            I just wanted to give a virtual kudo for making me look up a great word – palimpsest.

            I also think your general point is highly relevant.

          • Loquat says:

            I more or less do paleo. Started a couple of years back, lost 15-20 pounds without doing anything else. It definitely feels intuitively correct to not eat processed foods, though of course as paleo catches on there are more and more snack foods designed to fit the principles while still being tasty ready-to-eat things you shouldn’t eat the whole bag of at once.

        • Jaxon Jensen says:

          Low carb for many people is more filling at lower calorie points (higher “food reward”), so they lose weight on it. That’s a big component. Also the relatively higher protein intake that is typical on a lot of low carb diets. Protein is very filling and due to the vegan influences on diet and health policy, lower protein is considered healthier, but for many it’s less filling and leads to overeating.

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        A question on this: do we necessarily *expect* that once “Clozaril in orange soda” goes away weight loss will happen?

        My understanding is that barring interfering effects, appetite leans towards weight maintenance. What we should expect from low carb diets over the long term if Taubes was MOSTLY right is no more weight gain, and all he actually got wrong was the idea that removing the “Clozaril in orange soda” will remove all the negative effects of orange soda over the years.

        (though I argue for ‘sedentary lifestyle’ on that basis, I don’t actually KNOW if low carb dieting sans weight loss intention is successful at mitigating weight gain with age in adults, so carbs could also turn out to be pretty evil).

      • Alphaceph says:

        “It’s unclear what exactly the orange soda is – the worst-case scenario is that it’s something like calorically-dense heavily-flavored food, in which case learning this won’t be very helpful beyond current diet plans. The best-case scenario is that it’s just a disruption to the microbiome, and we can restore obese people to normal weight with a basic procedure which is very simple and not super-gross at all”

        – why is science not answering this question more urgently!!

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          – why is science not answering this question more urgently!!

          I am reminded of “The Unfinished Mystery of the Shangri-La Diet”:

          And what really makes this a catastrophe is that this theory has never been analyzed by controlled experiment, which drives me up the frickin’ WALL. Roberts himself is a big advocate of “self-experimentation”, which I suppose explains why he’s not pushing harder for testing. (Though it’s not like Roberts is a standard pseudoscientist, he’s an academic in good standing.) But with reports of such drastic success from so many observers, some of them reliable, outside dietary scientists ought to be studying this. What the fsck, dietary scientists? Get off your butts and study this thing! NOW! Report these huge results in a peer-reviewed journal so that everyone gets excited and starts studying the exceptions to the rule!

          It’s awful; it seems like Roberts has gotten so close to burying the scourge Obesity, but the theory is still missing some final element, some completing piece that would explain the rule and the exception, and with that last piece it might be possible to make the diet work for everyone…

          If we had a large-sized rationalist community going that had solved the group effort coordination problem, those of us who are metabolically disprivileged would be pooling resources and launching our own controlled study of this thing, and entering every conceivable variable we could report into the matrix, and hiring a professional biochemist to analyze our metabolisms before and afterward, and we would cryopreserve anyone who got in our way. You have no idea.

  2. suntzuanime says:

    So from a social engineering perspective, how do we make correct contrarianism more appealing? “First they ignore you then they laugh at you then they fight you then they take the credit” doesn’t sound like much of a career path.

    • Vilgot Huhn says:

      Maybe advertise to peoples martyr complexes?
      “First they ignore you then they laugh at you then they fight you then they take the credit” sounds a lot like how it goes in superhero movies.
      Be the scholar gotham deserves!

    • Perhaps teach them to better distinguish correct contrarians and incorrect contrarians? Then again, perhaps the project is doomed from the start, since once enough people take a contrarian seriously s/he stops being contrarian.

    • Jason GL says:

      My advice: If you notice that you strongly hold several contrarian opinions, you should infer that you probably have a bias against trusting the establishment, and so you should re-examine your contrarian opinions and try to figure out which of them have the weakest evidence and/or are most sharply in conflict with the most reliable parts of the establishment. Even if you can’t talk yourself out of believing your more extreme contrarian opinions, you can at least keep the most extreme opinions private.

      For example, I have contrarian opinions about tax policy, labor economics, the nuclear family, architecture, board game design, automobiles, sexual ethics, and cryonics. When I’m in public, I really only talk about the first two, because that’s where I have the strongest evidence to support my claims, and that’s where I have credentials that make it harder for others to write me off as a crackpot. I still think I’m at least partly correct about all the other topics, and sometimes I make private choices that take my opinions into account, but I try to at least bend my choices back toward the median (on the grounds that my opinions are biased toward contrarianism) and I predict that sharing the rest of my contrarian opinions in public will saddle me with high reputational costs and do very little good for society.

      • Protagoras says:

        Sharing your opinions on board game design would have high reputational costs? Perhaps you mean just because it would give you the reputation for discussing board game design in public, but if not, I find myself extremely curious what opinions about board game design you have that you think would be so unpopular.

        • lunatic says:

          I too wish to know what an unpopular opinion about board game design looks like.

          • John Schilling says:

            Monopoly is a fun, well-balanced game for people of all ages, but only if you change the rules to give people extra money every time they land on Free Parking.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            I would estimate that this house rule, in multiple variations, has been in use amongst at least half the people I have discussed and/or played Monopoly with. Your unpopular opinion meter is perhaps a bit oversensitive. 🙂

          • HeelBearCub says:

            A) nobody plays Monopoly by the actual rules, and if they did it would be MORE fun. If someone does not pay the asking price for a property it is supposed to auctioned off to the highest bidder. That’s where all the strategy of the game is.

            B) Monopoly, Risk, Parcheesi, etc. are not the kind of games Jason is talking about, I’m guessing. Settlers of Catan (Big Bang Theory references it) is the tip of the iceberg. Games like Agricola can give you a mental work out, and there are a ton of them.

          • Doug S. says:

            I use the auction rules! But nobody in my playgroup ever tries to use the auction rules to get a good deal on a property – we just buy what we land on if we can afford to, and it’s damn near impossible to get anyone to agree to a trade that isn’t horribly lopsided in their favor.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Doug S.

            I think you should be able to win fairly consistently then. I believe the set prices are over valued for a number of the properties. Same for hotels.

            If you are using the free-parking = money house rule, games will be much longer (as they prevent money from being removed from the game, which speeds the end).

          • Froolow says:


            I don’t know what you mean when you say ‘the set prices are overvalued’. The value of owning a property doesn’t (perfectly) track the price you have to pay for that property, but since acquiring a property is a net income stream for the rest of the game every property has a positive expected value. The only reason you should ever not buy a property is if the next turn could bankrupt you if you did (and even then you might want to buy it sometimes), or if the next turn could give you a game-winning opportunity to – for example – complete a set which you couldn’t otherwise afford.

            I think it is possible you are misremembering these findings:


            They show that the third house has a much lower payback period than a fourth house or hotel (except on ‘Med/Balt’, for which hotels are always correct). It also shows that some higher-income properties are cheaper than some lower-income properties (e.g. you break even on a single red Ken/Ind/Ill property faster than a single yellow Atl/Vent/Marv property). So you’re sort of right that the expected value of the properties doesn’t track the sticker price all that closely, but that shouldn’t give you much of an advantage if the property goes to auction; halfway competent players will bid the value up way higher than the sticker price.

          • Peter says:

            I don’t think it’s sufficient to say that something is a constant income stream to say it’s worth your entire stash. The game is of finite length (although some games don’t feel like it) which means the expected longest-run value on a tiny dribble of cash might be small. Another thought: is Monopoly inflationary or deflationary? This might hinge on the Free Parking house rule, also on the character of the people you’re playing with. If Monopoly is deflationary, then holding cash balances may be better than making poor investments.

          • Adam says:

            It’s problematic to value a Monopoly property based on any static features that hold across all games. Too much of the payoff comes from either creating your own monopoly or preventing another player from getting one, which is heavily dependent on the current distribution of properties, but since the prices don’t change, you can’t really say any particular property is under- or over-valued in general. The value at any given time depends too heavily on who holds the adjacent properties and what the rest of their portfolio looks like.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That article seems to state roughly the opposite of what you just said.

            To wit:

            Always buy Railroads; never buy Utilities (at full price)*
            – For every other property type, only buy them to complete a monopoly or to prevent opponents from completing one. Often this may mean buying as many properties as you can early in the game, but watch your cash reserves.

            That means that if two people already own a color, don’t buy it. Absent a complete CG, properties don’t pay back fast enough to make them worthwhile. In addition, if a CG is completely unowned and expensive (sides 3&4) and you are cash tight, you may want to pass.

            The properties by themselves are over valued for the duration of the game. Monopolies pay off.

        • Jason GL says:

          Well, like you say, having *any* strong opinion about board games is halfway to losing the battle.

          The other half of the loss comes from challenging people’s warm, fuzzy childhood memories about which games were fun and why, and from prodding people to think about how much more there is to appreciate about playing board games than they had previously realized. There are people walking around with a college-level understanding of music theory, art history, literary criticism, etc. who have never questioned their assumption that all board games are soulless, childish, and boring. Unless you’re very, very careful about how you point this out to them, they’re unlikely to thank you for calling their attention to a gaping hole in their cultural fluency.


          • HeelBearCub says:

            Mmmm. Interesting philosophy. Poor understanding of chance.

          • J. Goard says:

            In the circles I run in, my contrarian position on board games is that Cosmic Encounter is terrible. I’m lucky to have escaped lynching. 😉

      • onyomi says:

        I also have noticed in myself a contrarian bias. I, like many libertarians, like to hold contrarian positions, which actually biases me against mainstream, status quo positions. One may notice, for example, that many libertarians hold non-mainstream views about exercise and nutrition, which is likely not a coincidence. Therefore, I try to keep that in mind about myself when evaluating my own views.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        This is good. Far too many contrarians can’t shut up about their contrarian thoughts.

        If I were trying to convince people that butter causes AIDS, I should shut up about Obama being a lizard people, even if I know it with 100% certainty, because I can’t prove it.

    • 27chaos says:

      Fighting someone’s values head on is never persuasive, so to change people’s minds you should appeal to those values in novel ways, flipping their context, without rejecting them directly. As is often the case, here the best strategy is offensive: we should invert common criticisms of contrarian “crackpots”.

      This might mean popularizing ideas such as:
      1. Being correct out of fear is not worth aspiring to, true scientists value process more than the bottom line, only crazy people start truth-seeking with a prior assumed conclusion.
      2. If you have contrarian ideas in the back of your head and you are unwilling to give voice to them, you must not trust the scientific community very much after all. The looniest most desperate conspiracy theorists are those who have abandoned optimism entirely, who cannot believe the scientific community is capable of change when faced with facts.
      3. Who is truly less trustworthy: someone who freely admits their occasional oddness, or the person who pretends to believe in all and only the publicly acceptable dogma, without any exceptions? If someone claims to believe no contrarian ideas whatsoever, that’s a sign they’re nuttier than fruitcake, and even willing to lie to your face about it. Don’t trust people who claim they’ve never lied, and don’t trust scientists who claim they’ve never doubted themselves or the establishment.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Step 1: actually show they exist.
      Step 2: show they exist in high numbers
      Step 3: find a way to identify them reliably.
      Step 4: profit?

      Correct contrarianism is either an enticing theory or a rare but inevitable result. It certainly can’t be taken as fact.

    • drethelin says:

      Keep your contrarianism small and profitable. If you can invent and sell a treatment, chemical, reagent, or device based on your contrarianism, and then make money if it works you have an incentive to be correct. This also encourages actionable contrarianism instead of relatively useless contrarianism about broad social theories.

  3. Rangi says:

    “(on the other hand, Time Cube Guy is met with boredom by serious astronomers, either because he’s too small to be noticed or too small to be worth refuting, so it’s not like it’s a great heuristic)”

    They just don’t comprehend his advanced cubical thinking.

    “Academia destroys your brain, your ability to think opposite. The eyes of the flounder fish were relocated, why were yours relocated? Your opposite eyes were moved to 1 corner to overlay for single perspective, but that corrupts your Opposite Brain. KNOW CUBE, OR HELL.”

    • Vilgot Huhn says:

      Academics are evil idiot snot brains.

      Seriously though, was the reaction to time cube guy really boredom? I would have assumed it was befuddlement and confusion and a hint of fascination (fascination about how this guy is thinking).

      • Alex Richard says:

        He gave lectures on Time Cube Theory at MIT and Georgia Tech.

        • SFG says:

          Yeah, but that’s mostly because engineering and science students are often fascinated with bizarre ideas. Same reason they like science fiction and Monty Python. Just trying to make the guy’s ramblings make sense is a fun intellectual exercise.

  4. tautology says:

    Re: Reception is quiet for true contrarians vs crackpots

    I am not sure whether this is true for Cochran&Harpending style ideas. There was a big outcry about Wade’s “A troublesome inheritance”, which judging by its reviews covers similar grounds as the 10 000 year explosion.

    I agree that the “true contrarians” feel different from genuine crackpots, though this might just be because they are low profile enough to not be seen.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Although Cochran clearly harbors ideas similar to political racism, he very carefully kept them out of his book and focused on boring things like “Tibetans have extra adaptations to altitude”. These were scientific claims, they were well-supported by usual scientific standards, nobody cared except insofar as they were genuinely interested in science, and so most people ignored him.

      Wade tried much harder to be an explicitly political book, and so got the sort of criticism you get for saying political things. Also, I think Wade didn’t do a great job with the science either.

      • tautology says:

        Although Cochran clearly harbors ideas similar to political racism, he very carefully kept them out of his book and focused on boring things like “Tibetans have extra adaptations to altitude”.

        Several passages of the book focus on different behavioral adaptations between groups f people, such as hunter gatherers having different time preference, Ashkenazi having higher IQ, or Neanderthal introgression increasing innovation rates aong eurasiens, but not other human branches.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Also, he mentioned an “aggression gene” and how black people were more likely to have it.

    • The issue is that C&H discussed mostly cute, but status-neutral topics of evolution; lung issues among tibetans, ability to drink milk, etc. Wade discussed status-heavy topics of intelligence and behavior. The latter attracts far more hostility.

      Relating to this, there is a recent article “Evolution is Not Relevant to Sex Differences in Humans
      Because I Want it That Way!”. The article shows that most disagreement with evolutionary psychology conclusions is purely about human sex differences.

      One possible conclusion, hinted at there, is that taking the C&H approach might be the best way to promote such a theory. I.e., push the theory and simply ignore the uncomfortable implications until the theory is accepted. Then, once the whole paradigm is accepted, you can push the uncomfortable implications forward.

      • tautology says:

        The issue is that C&H discussed mostly cute, but status-neutral topics of evolution; lung issues among tibetans, ability to drink milk, etc. Wade discussed status-heavy topics of intelligence and behavior.

        C&H discuss a lot of genes and behavior type ideas as well. For example when discussing Neanderthal introgression, C&H write that resulting from it innovation rates among the populations went up by a factor 100 and similar developments were not observed among other branches of human.

        Or they discuss time preference in hunter gatherer societies which they believe to be low.

        And of course their Ashkenazi intelligence hypothesis strike pretty much into the heart of the debate, with group differences in IQ making up an entire chapter, though not the dreaded B&W difference.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Yeah I think the key thing to realize there is that it’s not the idea of racial IQ differences per se that’s radioactive, it’s the idea of whites/Anglo-Saxons having higher IQ than another race. It’s pretty widely accepted that racial inequality doesn’t become actual bad racism until it benefits whites, who have the power. Given that the Jews were victims of genocide, they’re allowed to have high IQs without as much fuss.

          • tautology says:

            Though the Neanderthal introgression actually goes into that direction.

          • B.B. says:

            suntzuanime said:
            It’s pretty widely accepted that racial inequality doesn’t become actual bad racism until it benefits whites, who have the power.

            Jared Diamond speculating that “in mental ability New Guineans are probably genetically superior to Westerners” at the beginning of Guns, Germs & Steel didn’t seem to harm his anti-racist cred.

          • Mary says:


            What really crowns it is that Diamond opened the book mocking the idea of European superiority on the grounds that innate differences are racist — without providing a scintilla of evidence.

          • creative username #1138 says:

            The higher IQ of Ashkenazi Jews is often explained by a culture of education while avoiding any talk of genetics (see for example here or here.) That makes Ashkenazi IQ much easier to reconcile with current dogmas.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            “Culture of education” is a pretty vague term. I’m Ashkenazi. My parents sent me to public school and bought me books when I asked for them. Which part of that was the secret formula for success?

          • Mary says:

            I have read that in fact, the reason why Ashkenazi Jews may be so highly educated is that with the fall of the Temple, it was no longer possible to demonstrate what a good Jew you were by your sacrifices, only by your Torah study. This not only encouraged Jews to go into occupations where literacy was a benefit — and where you could earn enough money to support a scholar in his study — but encouraged Jews in other occupations to drift away from Judaism.

            One notes therefore that unlike adult lactose tolerance, this evolution may have required nothing more than genetic drift. Genetic drift works A LOT faster than mutation.

          • SFG says:

            I seem to run (in my personal life) into lots of left-wing Jews who get very angry that the whole thing’s even being brought up. Scott’s the exception here (and has shown a principled tendency to be so).

            Personally, I think the general public figured out the whole Jewish genetic intelligence thing after Nobel Prize #150 or so. If anything, I think it makes a second Holocaust less likely–Hitler’s anti-Semitism probably cost Germany the Bomb.

          • Seth says:

            The “bought me books when I asked for them.” is definitely one part of the not-so-secret-formula for (intellectual) success. Note, sigh, it’s not the only thing, it’s not a guarantee, it’s not utterly impossible to overcome the opposite etc. etc. But it’s certainly one very positive factor which should not be discounted.

          • Creutzer says:

            Yes. It may seem obvious to you, but even the idea that asking parents for books is something that children do cannot be taken for granted in all (sub)cultures.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Our house was full of books already. Wordsworth and Swinburne were heavy to lift, but had woods and rivers and boats.

          • ryan says:

            There is an argument regarding Ashkenazi Jews and IQ that strikes me as a sort of 400 pound really cynical gorilla:

            70 years ago literally half of the Ashkenazi Jews in the world were murdered. To believe that the elevated IQ observed in the post-holocaust generations is entirely the result of thousand year old genetic adaptations or a culture of scholarship requires believing that the holocaust selected its victims randomly across the bell curve.

            I find this line of thinking disgusting and evil, so I would really appreciate someone explaining why it’s totally wrong.

          • Scott: “My parents sent me to public school and bought me books when I asked for them. Which part of that was the secret formula for success?”

            In general, Jews don’t do anti-intellectualism. They like having smart children. I’ve looked for Jewish anti-intellectualism, and I don’t think I’ve found it, except perhaps among some Chasidim. The nearest thing I’ve found in the mainstream is by Natalie Goldberg (probably in Long Quiet Highway), but her family was just unintellectual– thinking about non-immediate things seemed to be a blank spot for them rather than something they were opposed to.

            I believe a tremendous amount of non-Jewish intelligence is lost because it’s not just uncultivated, in some sub-cultures, the appearance of intelligence causes a loss of status.

            This doesn’t mean there’s no genetic difference– there might be– but I think there’s a big cultural difference. Admittedly, the cultural difference might have something to do with people amplifying what they’re good at.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Yes, bookishness is not valued by all parents. My parents limited me to one book per month, with one extra book per vacation.

          • ryan, I don’t think there’s any reason to think post-Holocaust Jews average smarter than pre-Holocaust Jews. Do you have any evidence?

            I also think the Holocaust was closer to random than you appreciate– while fame, money, and good sense made it easier for Jews to escape, only 25% of German Jews escaped, and (as I was surprised to find out), the major part of the Holocaust happened in Poland, and it moved very fast.

            I’ve heard an argument that persecution in general selected for intelligence among Jews. I don’t think it’s a very strong argument because persecution doesn’t seem to do other groups much good.

          • brad says:

            When you hear the stories they sound completely random — that doesn’t mean they are, but that’s how they sound.

            For example, I had a great-great grandfather who came to the United States with his eldest son, to see if he wanted to move here. He didn’t like the US but his eldest son did. The oldest son was my great-grandfather, he moved the the US and lived, his parents and 6 siblings stayed in Europe and died in the Holocaust.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Ryan, weak selection over many generations is more powerful than strong selection in a single generation. In particular, a single generation of strong selection reduces the standard deviation. This is not what we see in Ashkenazi IQ.

            if there is a trait which is 100% genetic and exactly the bottom half of the population is killed, then the trait will go up by a standard deviation. The first hypothesis is not true for IQ, but maybe close. The second hypothesis is very far from the Holocaust. To a first approximation, the Holocaust killed Jews in Europe and left alive Jews in America. But immigration to America seemed to have been, if anything, negatively correlated with IQ. Plus German vs Polish, as Nancy says.

          • Buckyballas says:

            I think the next LW/SSC survey should have a question about being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. It boggles my mind how often I am reading a smart, sharp article or book, and when I google the author – sure enough, Jewish. According to this old-school looking website, Jews account for 53% (?!) of Non-Fiction Pulitzer winners. WHAT?!

          • Steven says:

            Jared Diamond is constantly being attacked for racism by anthropologists, generally using some pretty weak arguments.

            Some links to the arguments and counter-arguments:

          • ryanch says:

            It’s pretty easy to see the alternative viewpoint – Ashkenazi Jews have been in large part an endogamous urban upper middle class for centuries. Few claim that Europe of the late 1700s and early 1800s was a meritocracy, and yet Jews were already frequently doctors, lawyers and accountants. Upper middle class values and attributes may replicate in other ways than genetically.

            One common bit of evidence for Ashkenazi genetic superiority is the number of Ashkenazi Nobels. I don’t pretend to say that it’s the only or primary evidence. But I find it interesting that if you look more closely at the list, an extraordinary number are the product of Ashkenazi/gentile parents. Extraordinary in that most people would not posit that mixed marriages were extremely common in the mid- to late- 19th century when so many of these people were born.

            I would put forward two possible mechanisms – one, that Ashkenazi Jews had an extraordinary ability to select as marriage partners those gentiles whose DNA would contribute to higher intelligence; or two, that the habits of Euro-American elites are conducive to higher intelligence for reasons that are more complex, but mimic, the ways in which the Euro-American upper middle class diet was more conducive to producing tall offspring, an advantage that has basically been erased as others have gained access to sufficient childhood nutrition.

            There may be other plausible mechanisms. But it’s hard to see that genetics has to be the null hypothesis, as you seem to suggest. I think too much has been ceded to the idea that the primary experience of Jews in pre-modern Europe was one of repression. I think it’s more plausible to see the history of Jews in Europe as a segment of the elite class alternately favored and repressed as the interests and power of other classes waxed and waned. I think this can apply as much to the Pale as elsewhere, since for much of the last millennium, shtetls represented not the late 19th century aggregate of disconnected, shabby backwaters that seems to inhabit our imagination, but rather, a privileged network whose competitors were excluded by force.

            If one sees Jews as primarily having been repressed, then they must have held their position based on superior genes. If you see them as having had significant privilege for large spans of European history (as well as a disastrous lack of privilege that started centuries before the Holocaust, in a sort of punctuated equilibrium perhaps driven by a macabre rule of human social dynamics) then genetic superiority seems less ironclad. The extraordinary rise of Jews in the US in the last century may be partly a mirage rooted in shtetl mythmaking, and instead rooted in endogamous flows of capital from an existing elite that moved to the new world.

            I write this as a Unitarian – the religion that consistently returns higher IQ marks than Ashkenaza Jews. But hey, I don’t believe I’m genetically superior either. I’m just another heir to upper middle class values, habits and resources.

            Weird – just thought I’d add that I’m not the Ryan that people are replying to upthread.

            I’d also add that my daughters are the product of a mixed marriage. Much as I’d like to think my wife picked me for my genetic superiority …

            I do think my Jewish daughters are going to win Nobels one day! 🙂

          • Eli says:

            If anyone was really interested in the genetics underlying the intelligence of one ethnic group or another, they’d have isolated the responsible alleles and gotten rich off an intelligence-enhancing gene therapy.

  5. Steve Sailer says:

    I cut down on fat in my diet in the early 1990s, following the sensible sounding advice of a guy who had a diet and nutrition show on PBS, and gained a lot of weight. I cut down on carbs in 1997 on the advice of Suzanne Somers (of “Three’s Company” fame) and soon lost the weight I had gained eating more carbs. Whether Suzanne Somers was more contrarian than Gary Taubes, I’ll leave to the historians of science.

    • SSC fan says:

      This is sort of my experience, minus Suzanne Somers. That’s why I’m trying to figure out where Taubes could be wrong.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, I lost the most weight when I did the “reduce your carbs intake to 165g per day” monitoring of what I was eating.

        I don’t know though if this was because of drastically cutting back on carbs or if it was more to do with becoming aware of portion sizes (dividing carbs allowance into 11 servings of 15g each per day, so for example 2 slices of toast for breakfast = 30g carbs = 2 servings from allowance) and generally cutting back on everything, including all the junk.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I have heard enough stories like yours to get the impression that low carb diets work very very well for some people.

      I’m not sure whether this is through some really interesting mechanism, or just because those people really like carbs and tend to overeat them.

      And maybe there’s some other group of people who do really well on low fat diets but we never hear about them except insofar as they think everything’s fine and dieting is easy.

      • Professor Frink says:

        I have eaten a mostly vegetarian and fish, fairly low fat for nearly my entire adult life. When I switched from “college junk food” to this sort of diet (when I started living with the woman I’d later marry), I dropped 60 lbs in about a year and I’ve maintained that for more than a decade.

        So certainly the “eat healthy, move around a lot” sort of advice works for some people.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          I’ve been able to maintain a healthy BMI on a similar diet for many years. It’s definitely the diet, not metabolism, because gwen I was working away in a town where healthy food is unknown I put on weight. I deal with the moving round bit by not owning a car.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        “I’m not sure whether this is through some really interesting mechanism, or just because those people really like carbs and tend to overeat them.”

        Right, but an easy diet is a good diet.

        Anyway, the point is that different things work for different people so you ought to try a few different diets and see if one is better and/or easier for you. Suzanne Somers’ theory was that eating carbs releases stomach acids that make you feel even hungrier than you were so you keep on eating.

        I have no idea if that is true technically for me, nor for how many people, but it more or less corresponds with my personal experience. So eliminating breakfast cereal and orange juice was an easy way for me to lose 15 pounds without feeling very hungry.

      • Cadie says:

        Anecdotally yes, some people do pretty well on low-fat calorie-counting diets and some don’t. I have no idea how or why this works, especially when some of these people from both groups are closely related; it’s not a simple genetic link, though genetics plays some role.

        The ones who maintain a healthy weight by eating low-fat diets don’t typically go on to try others; the low-fat is the one most people try first. It’s when that fails that the person looks to alternatives, and some of THOSE people find that a low-carb approach works better for them. Many people who wouldn’t succeed on low-carb are filtered out by not trying it in the first place.

      • Eli says:

        In my experience, fat and carbs are both fine, but sugar is waaaaaay more common and more calorie-dense than anyone non-paranoid thinks it is, and portion sizes tend to be too large.

        Also, you shouldn’t necessarily eat high calorie-density foods for every portion of every meal. In fact, it’s best if every meal consists of a rich part and a not-rich-but-nutritious part.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      As soon as the low carb theory reached the bottom level of the pyramid (the public), there was potential for trickle-up. A common problem (overweight), an understandable remedy, which the public could easily try at home: crowd-sourced experimentation. At a close higher level, a venue to report results to: patients telling their masseurs/chiropractors/doctors it worked for them. When a patient’s medical record shows a notable drop from overweight to normal, that’s solid data, though whether anyone on a higher level persuaded any doctors to count it up and report it, is another question.

    • SFG says:

      Doesn’t rule out that it all depends on some polymorphism of metabolism we haven’t figured out yet, so it works for some people but not others. The whole thing is likely terribly complex and bizarre.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        When X works very well on Elderly Hispanic Women but not at all on anyone else, the report soon becomes “X doesn’t work” or “X has been debunked” — though the ideal scientific attitude would be “Let’s find out what is special about EHW that makes it work.”

        My inner Cui Bono says, “When it can’t be sold, it doesn’t work” and “If we did learn that X + Y* does work on everybody, Y probably wouldn’t be patentable, and getting X+Y approved would be too expensive, so we can’t sell that either. So X doesn’t work.”

        * Y = raw form of unfashionable seasoning that only is found in the kitchens of EHW.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          “Elderly Hispanic woman” is perfectly fine if it’s replicable (well, and not most post-hoc fishing).

          If you re-run the study and come up with “young, orthodox Jewish men”, then you know you are just BSing.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          Not being a biochemist, I hadn’t read a lot of drug patents despite having been a patent lawyer for almost twenty years. I am currently on a placement that involves drug patents, and out of curiosity I read the patents at issue and some related ones.

          I really believe in patents, as a force for social good and encouragement of innovation. However, for a nickel, I would now support any measure necessary to get rid of drug patents up to and including complete elimination of the entire patent system.

          It’s that bad.

          • endoself says:

            Can you describe why it’s bad? Maybe give examples of bad drug patents? I’m trying to improve my model of what circumstances result in incentives for innovation.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Unfortunately I can’t disclose the patents I read because they’re all related to the case I’m working on. I’m really uptight about privilege. 🙁

            As a general example, though, I saw a patent for the use of an opioid painkiller administered at a dosage which would effectively relieve pain while minimizing the risk of injury to the patient.

            That was it. That was the whole claim.

            It wasn’t a novel painkiller. The dosage regimen, to my non-doctor non-pharmacist non-biochemist mind, was not particularly exotic. And yet somehow they got a patent on this method. The mind, she boggles. And that wasn’t even the worst one I saw. This makes software patents look downright noble.

          • CJB says:

            Coming at this from the regulatory side-

            It’s the only way to get anyone at all interested in making new drugs.

            New drugs are hideously expensive to even find, and then even more hideously expensive to test, and then they take friggin’ forever to get through the acceptance stage…..and by that time you’re starting to run out of time on your patent.

            For example, in the EU, it’s very common to grant incredibly long patent extensions for things like ‘being willing to perform pediatric testing’ or ‘work on drugs for rare diseases’. And the EU is more generous than the US- it’s paents give 15.5 years…from the time it’s authorized to go to market. The US just does 20 years, flat- and it can take a decade to get through FDA (especially for something novel. God help you if it’s novel.).

            Ultimately, convincing drug companies to actually make new things requires incredibly strong patents and incredibly generous extensions, etc. Otherwise there’s no money in it. Even as it is- there’s not a hell of a lot of money in drugs, despite what the anti-big-pharma people like to claim.

            There’s a reason drugs are incredibly expensive, and it’s not because pharma CEOs sit around on stacks of cash going “HAHAHA they’ll pay whatever we like! We’re saving their miserable lives!”

          • Marc Whipple says:

            I understand that, and I am all for the Hatch-Waxman approach where we give people temporary monopolies in exchange for bringing generics to market. We can expand it to NDA applications, for all of me. I always knew getting a drug all the way to the pharmacy shelf was expensive, time-consuming, and persnickety. I have spent the last three weeks reading pretty much every document associated with that process for a single drug. (Regulatory filings, clinical trials, formulation, you name it.) It’s much worse than I thought. Incentives, yes, we need to give them.

            Just don’t call them “patents.”

            Patents are for NOVEL AND UNOBVIOUS INVENTIONS. “Give people enough opiates to make them comfortable but not enough to kill them” is none of those things. If that seems pedantic, it is, and allow me to introduce myself, I’m a patent lawyer AND IT’S A JOB REQUIREMENT.

    • meyerkev248 says:

      Admittedly, anecdotes are not data, yadda yadda yadda, but I keep hearing a lot of anecdotes that go something like this:

      * I was fat
      * I went low-carb after reading one of his books.
      * I dropped 10 pounds in the first 2 weeks (for subtle variations on 10/2 weeks)
      * I dropped 85 pounds over the next year (ditto. Most people are not 320 pounds to start out with, so it’s usually about 50)
      * When I finally put some carbs back in because I really love my chips, I immediately gained back 20-30 pounds over a month.

      So it would not surprise me if there was some mechanism that made low-carb work better and/or more often than not low-carb.

      Even if it’s just “Low-carb means you can’t sit down with a bag of chips”.

      Because I went from 320 to 235 (albeit the last 5 were that time I went to Dublin for 3 weeks and deliberately set things up so I had a 45-minute walk to work from my hotel. Great way to burn off the pints), and then once I was continuously oncall and could no longer actually cook dinner, I immediately bounced up to 250 and have slowly crept up to 260.

  6. mico says:

    The most suck-y paragidm of the now: social inequality is caused by economic inequality rather than by divergent fast evolution.

  7. Daniel Lucraft says:

    Trust me, everyone here knows the Queen is descended from Germans. It’s one of the favourite things for republicans to bring up.

    • Machine Interface says:

      As it turns out, almost every major european dynastic line from the last few centuries, from the Bourbons to the Romanovs, have mostly Germanic (often Frankish) origin.

      • Steven says:

        Well, of course. A marriage of “equal birth” for the family of a sovereign ruler was to a member of the family of another sovereign ruler. Because it was disunited, “Holy Roman Empire” Germany had roughly as many such rulers as the rest of Europe combined. So any time a member of a royal line anywhere in Europe reached marriageable age, roughly half of the eligible spouses of equal rank were Germans.

        • Machine Interface says:

          “Major” is the key word.

          • Steven says:

            “Major” is only the key word if you didn’t understand what I was saying. The major lines all married German spouses because half the available spouses for non- morganatic marriages were of German houses, so after just a little bit of time, every single royal in a major line would have, on average, two German grandparents. With the result that even a marriage between two major lines would result in kids who had four great-grandparents from German houses. So, also, if a line failed, half the relatives to inherit were German . . . and it was far less politically fraught to bring in a minor German sovereign prince to become the new king than have a personal union between two major countries.

          • Machine Interface says:

            But this is not directly relevant to the prior assetion that “almost every major european dynastic line […] have mostly Germanic (often Frankish) origin“.

            The Bourbons didn’t acquire a [+german] feature through intermarriage with the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire: they had it to begin with, since the founder of the original Capetian line was a Robertian Frank, who was born even before the Holy Roman Empire existed.

            Likewise England, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Russia, Aragon and others have been ruled from the begining by rulers of Germanic decent without intermarriage with members of the Holy Roman Empire playing any role in this fact.

          • anonymous says:

            The reason for this phenomenon in the earliest times is that Germany (and Scandinavia) used to be a semi-nomadic region in antiquity. The original Germanic tribes, were somewhat nomadic.

            There is a recurring pattern in human history: Nomads conquer sedentary people and establish themselves as aristocracy. So did the Mongols and countless others from the steppe. Also, Arabic and Berber dinasties that originally came from the more desertic areas. And so on. You could find many example, it’s always been like this: blood aristocracies have a tendency to come from nomadic backgrounds.

            For both genetic and memetic reasons, nomadic life breeds warriors, and therefore warlords, and therefore parasitic aristocrats.

            On the other hand, most of the Popes, the true rulers of Europe in the middle ages, have been Italian.

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            @anonymous none of those royal lines were started by nomadic Germans though. They all got started by vikings, and the vikings were farmers were not slaving and conquering.

          • anonymous says:

            Most of the royal lines are not of viking origins actually.

            You are right that the Scandinavians weren’t nomadic in the strict sense, but there are more distinctions to be made. You use the word “farming”, but it’s important to distinguish between grain-growing and cattle-herding. Norse farming was based on cattle herding.
            If you look at ancient peoples, you can see a sliding variable that goes from one end of densely populated grain growing areas, to the other end of sparsely populated herding areas, with the extreme of this being the great steppe. Scandinavia while not nomadic, was also rather close to the nomadic end of the spectrum due to having low population density and a cattle based economy.

            All over the world, people close to the sparsely populated herding end of the spectrum, have been historically warlike in character and prone to originate conquering migrations of warriors.

            This does not mean that these people were some kind of “master race”. They were barbaric, foreign to civilization, genetically and memetically. I personally believe that northern Europeans only developed their remarkable compatibility with civilization in the last thousand years, not before.

          • “and the vikings were farmers were not slaving and conquering.”

            “Viking” isn’t an ethnicity, it’s a profession, and the profession isn’t farming.

    • Deiseach says:

      Apparently the American media has missed the recent tabloid storm-in-a-teacup over the Queen giving a Nazi salute?

      As we’re now coming to the end of the marching season in the North, believe me, plenty of people are aware of the Germanic origins of the present Royal family.

      Never mind the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, I’m still annoyed about the ascendancy of the House of Hanover over the House of Stuart 🙂

      • SFG says:

        People really get upset over that? She was a child and has shown no evidence of fascist tendencies after that.

        I don’t like Nazis, but this is ridiculous.

    • Pete says:

      It’s a stupid argument. The Queen’s ancestors had been born in England for about 7 generations, and over 250 years when she was born (also in England). How long until you can start to call yourself English? (Not to mention that she almost certainly has English ancestry going back further than that)

      And I say this as a (not very passionate) republican.

      • Andrew G. says:

        The Queen’s ancestry is still traceable back to Egbert of Wessex (early 800s); before that, the sources get a bit dubious.

    • CJB says:

      The queen is directly descended from LOTS of British royalty, including the Stuarts……

      Through the female line.

      You SEXIST PIGS. :p

      More precisely the reason she CAN be queen goes back to the ancient argument over who owns france. Which, IIRC, Henry V argued was through matrilineal descent, and again iirc, the French sort of randomly made up a “Salic law”.

      • AngryDrake says:

        the French sort of randomly made up a “Salic law”


        The French had a legitimate claim to the agnatic inheritance rules specified in the Salic law, due to their realm being a descendant of the ancient Frankish realms, where said law originates.

        • CJB says:

          Welllllllllll…..not so much, but also kinda?

          Now that I’m off my phone, I can be a little more loquacious.

          “Salic Law” as a term, wasn’t really recognized at the time that the “Women can’t inherit the throne!” was added, in 1318 (approx 100 years before Henry V’s claim to the throne of France). The Estates-General was asked by Philip V of France to write a justification for his usurption of the throne, and came up with “Bitches ain’t shit”.

          In 1328, when Edward III (England) made HIS claim to France, it was extended to include the idea that women cannot TRANSMIT an inheritance.

          Salic law was suddenly rediscovered at this point (to quote wiki directly): “Jurists later resurrected the long-defunct Salic law and reinterpreted it to justify the line of succession arrived at in the cases of 1316 and 1328 by forbidding not only inheritance by a woman but also inheritance through a female line (In terram Salicam mulieres ne succedant).”

          So it was pretty much always an ad hoc justification for keeping the Limeys out. No one had been using Salic law for several hundred years, the original claims of female inheritance were also ad hoc justifications, and their combination with Salic law didn’t show up until later yet.

          Basically- Edward III and Henry V had the legal claim to the crown of France on their side.

          Of course, even if the French were legally correct, their treaty with Henry V should have lead to Henry VI taking the french crown, as Henry V was made “Heir Apparent” and his rights most CERTAINLY would have been inherited.

          Damn Frogs.

          • brad says:

            Not like the English have a leg to stand on in terms of consistency. Henry VII’s laughable claim to throne was not only through his mother’s side but her claim was via the bastard child of the third surviving son of Edward III.

          • CJB says:

            It’s fun running through the lists of kings/queens of pretty much any state and realizing that “Child takes over from parent peacefully” isn’t really the way things go.

            It also leads to something that makes me laugh out loud every time.

            House of Wessex
            House of Denmark
            House of Wessex (restored, first time)
            House of Denmark (restored)
            House of Wessex (restored, second time)
            House of Normandy


          • Deiseach says:

            What gives me constant amusement is John Knox’s “The Monstrous Regiment of Women” where he rails against the evils of letting women rule as reigning monarchs (this was fine for a staunch Calvinist inveighing against the Catholic queens Mary of Scotland and Mary of England), then having to backpedal and do some grovelling along the lines of “Well, obviously I didn’t mean you” when the Anglican Elizabeth succeeded to the throne.

            It’s occurred to me it must have been very awkward for someone who believed in predestination and God’s ultimate sovereignty and the monarch as God’s personal representative to have God choose a woman to accede to the rule, after Knox had scoured the Bible for quotes proving how unnatural this was 🙂

      • Deiseach says:

        Re: descent through the female line from the House of Stuart – yeah, but it’s very diluted.

        Okay: James II (legitimate king of the House of Stuart) is deposed by the Protestant interests who thinks he’s a crypto-Catholic and likely to do crazy stuff that will destabilise the realm like letting Catholics have government jobs.

        They invite over William of Orange, nice Dutch Protestant, and use the excuse of him being James’ son-in-law to replace James with his daughter and her husband (who, conveniently, was also her first cousin) as joint monarchs.

        They don’t manage to have any issue, so after first Mary and then William die, in order to counter the claims of James’ son James (the Old Pretender), the Act of Succession barring Catholics from inheriting the throne is passed and Anne, sister of Mary and half-sister of James, daughter of James II, is made queen. All her children pre-decease her, so she dies without issue and the House of Stuart is (allegedly) defunct.

        Never mind that James, son of James II, and then Charles, grandson of James II, are alive and have a good claim to the throne. Casting about for the next Protestant monarch, the British are thrown on the House of Hanover, where George I (as he eventually becomes) inherits because his father Ernest was one of the children of Elizabeth, daughter of James I.

        By the time we get to the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, never mind the present House of Windsor (and the name was changed in 1917 due to anti-German sentiment during wartime), there’s very little of the Stuart blood left. Given that the Queen’s husband changed his surname to Mountbatten and dropped his link to the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (because of that whole Oh No We’ve Had Another War With The Germans sentiment), and that Mountbatten itself is an Anglicisation of his mother’s father’s House of Battenburg, I think the Germanic influence can be said to be stronger 🙂

        This was the last legitimate Stuart.

        • Andrew G. says:

          Casting about for the next Protestant monarch, the British are thrown on the House of Hanover, where George I (as he eventually becomes) inherits because his father Ernest was one of the children of Elizabeth, daughter of James I.

          Uh, no; George I’s mother (Sophia of Hanover) was a daughter of Elizabeth Stuart (Elizabeth of Bohemia).

          Catholics (and those married to Catholics) were already barred from the throne by the Bill of Rights (1689); the Act of Settlement (1701) didn’t change that but did specify who would inherit next after Anne.

  8. Ruben says:

    Regarding your “one very small study” that no one has followed up on:
    One of my main issues with the broader less wrong community’s self-assessment as very rational has at times been a curious neglect of meta-scientific knowledge trumping some other things.
    So, the community is very willing to believe a study or a cluster of studies that showed that creatine raises IQ, because a) makes sense b) scientific study c) exception to “beware the man of one study” because of contrarianism, which I think is an ideology to which I’m also prone to, a mishmash of believing “norms keep people from speaking the truth”/”most people are idiots”, “I’ve got special knowledge”, “I love to win arguments” and “an outsider perspective” (if you don’t have the outlet of talking to other specialised researchers and them privately agreeing with you even though there are systemic biases against the theory, you may be more likely to write a “rogue” book or shout it from the rooftops).

    The thing is in science most people aren’t complete idiots (though they may be blinkered to some stuff), but there are systemic biases in science publication. So if there was an exciting result like choline solving rapid-cycling bipolar or creatine easily raising IQ and the study was cited, it’s reeally likely scientists heard about, followed up on it and couldn’t replicate it and didn’t publish it. That is just the more rational expectation. Meta-scientific projects like AllTrials and the Open Science Framework try to solve this, but until then, at least in many social/life science fields, this is much more rational than thinking “I’ve hit upon a secret pocket of awesome knowledge than will make me able to win arguments/become smarter/cure rapid-cycling bipolar”.

    Obviously this small bias is better than ignoring the scientific literature completely, but I think it shows a common contrarian trap. I have some other examples of this in the LW community (and obviously I don’t think everyone falls into it).

    • Vilgot Huhn says:

      I agree with this.

      I have a private theory that since some very intelligent people grow up surrounded by peers that are less so, they turn this into the implicit assumption that they can outsmart anything. Or to put it differently, they don’t appreciate how large the world is. “Other people are usually stupider than me” doesn’t really generalize when talking about professional researcher. They see their own view as privileged because, in their experience, it usually is/has been, but this becomes a bad prior. Maybe this is how you get those highly intelligent but also overconfident contrarians believeing weird things (or well, some small part of it)?

      • “I have a private theory that since some very intelligent people grow up surrounded by peers that are less so, they turn this into the implicit assumption that they can outsmart anything. ”

        My theory about Ayn Rand.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        My experience with really smart people tends to back this up. There are exceptions and not all of them do it all the time, but it’s definitely a persistent and prominent pattern.

      • My experience also runs this way, especially my experience of myself.

        Becoming a professional software developer was actually the only thing that regularly brought me into contact with people smarter than myself. All the way through college, I was smarter than most of the people around me, though the delta was smaller in college than in high school. (Professors may have been smarter than me, but they were authority figures, not peers, so they didn’t count.) Only after I got hired at a major software company did I start working with people who were obviously smarter than me and could prove it by writing circles around whatever I tried to code.

        This was a salutary experience. I no longer over-estimate my expertise—or at least I don’t think that I do.

      • 27chaos says:

        I disagree with all of you! (Maybe.)

        As a highschooler, I was told over and over again that once I got to college I would stop being among the smartest people in the room, and I’d need to get used to humility. Yet once I went to college, I actually felt like my intelligence relative to my peers went higher than it was in high school. The only place I now seem to encounter people smarter than myself regularly is through the internet – in real life although other people are often more skilled or experienced, their general reasoning abilities seem to just universally suck.

        I have no good ideas on how to handle this – outside view says I must be trapped in horrible biases, but inside view says that surely some people have to be the exception to the aphorism, and why not me? Or maybe my college just uniquely sucked, or something like that? Perhaps it’s because my peers in high school were all on the debate team, whereas in college I was lumped with a broader group of students, and put in larger classes? Maybe the role of social signalling in arguments is higher among intelligent people in college than in lower stakes high school?

        I’m not sure, but it’s quite frustrating, especially since so many other smart people’s experiences being mentioned here seem to contradict my own. There’s this knowledge that “maybe I’m just super biased” and I have no good ways to actually confirm or deny this, so I’m left awkwardly feeling guilty about being possibly biased without actually believing with confidence that I am indeed biased. Epistemic limbo is not fun, either extreme of this belief spectrum would be preferable to where I’m at now.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Well, you don’t mention where you are at currently, but most (the vast majority) of people in undergrad don’t go on to become researchers, let alone STEM researchers. So your personal experience in undergrad still doesn’t make it rational to discount the intelligence of researchers.

          • Collun says:

            This is certainly true, though I think I disagree with the implication of researchers being notably more intelligent than the non-research STEM community. I don’t have any non-anecdotal evidence for this, but at least in my engineering experience many of the smartest undergrads spurn graduate school.

        • Brad says:

          I see three possibilities:

          1) you are significantly smarter than the rest of us
          2) you went to a college without many smart people
          3) you are poor at recognizing intelligence in others.

          As a guess I’d say the probabilities are 3 > 2 > 1.

          • LCL says:

            3 doesn’t agree with my experience. “Real recognize real” almost always applies, whether for developed skills or innate talents like intelligence. Plus he says he can recognize smart people on the internet.

            I think a combination of 1 and 2 most likely. College isn’t that much of a step up unless you go to an absolute top college. If you go to your state U, from a highly rated academic high school, you could plausibly find your new peers to be a step down.

            “In October 2014, 68.4 percent of 2014 high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities,” per The U.S. labor department. If you’re in the top few percentiles for intelligence, that’s not enough of a bottleneck to surround you with people on the same level. Maybe a certain club or activity within the college would be.

        • Deiseach says:

          I think the reason you (and everyone) gets the “University will be different to secondary school” lecture is because in secondary school, enrolment is mostly based on geographical catchment area (unless you’re going to a private school where selection on exam results is the criterion).

          But in college, it’s based on (in Ireland) did you get the points for the course you wanted. There’s selection pressures of SAT scores or whatever, so the general idea is that everyone who got accepted on the Underwater Basket Weaving bachelor’s degree at IC University is of a minimum intellectual standard of Pretty Smart.

          So that it’s easier for someone to be the smartest pupil in the class in secondary school because the competition isn’t there, but in university, all the kids were, if not the smartest kid in the class, at least among the smartest kids.

          It could well be that you are indeed very, very smart; do you have an IQ test score or any idea what your IQ is?

          • 27chaos says:

            I’ve never taken an IQ test. However, you gave me a good idea. I did some research, and my college’s “middle 50%” ACT score was 22-27. After a bit more research, my high school’s average ACT score for the past few years was 21, and I expect my class was probably an outlier. Those aren’t very far apart. Therefore, I think that the fact I was segregated from the dumbest students in high school but not in college is the main explanation for my perceptions. My class sizes were small, also, so dumb students crowded out smart ones. (Clarification: there certainly were people smarter than me. But not very many…)

            I first took the ACT in 7th grade, and got a 24 at that time. So, in college I’m interacting with many people who are dumber than I was in 7th grade, and in retrospect I think of 7th grade me as a total idiot, for reasons I’m sure all of us can empathize with.

            So, I’m apparently not just a super biased person! Hooray! I am truly alone!

          • Professor Frink says:

            At least part of it is where you chose to go to college then.

            Looking it up, my alma mater had a middle 50% ACT of 31-34.

            Your best bet, then,for finding smart people is to get yourself into the honors program or a selective major (physics, math,etc).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “I’m interacting with many people who are dumber than I was in 7th grade”

            That is an interesting statement.

            When I was in HS (and before) I hated it. I cared very much about learning and other people did not seem to. I expected this to change when I got to college and I did not. I felt mocked/despised for simply doing what theoretically was supposed to be optimal behavior. I felt alternate blinding-rage and severe hopelessness and what seemed like a fairly capricious world whose rules I didn’t seem to understand.

            By the time I made it to my late 20s, I started to realize that much of my problem was social and not intellectual. I didn’t understand the unwritten rules of being sociable. And that was much more the reason I felt like a fish out of water, and it had only somewhat to do with my intelligence. Add onto that what I only in the last few years realize is a pretty decent case of ADD and you have a recipe for feeling like a permanent outsider.

            I guess I am simply offering my own tale as possibly cautionary. If your issue is social, and not intellectual, taking refuge in your academic capabilities may actually make your problems worse, rather than better.

          • 27chaos says:

            I do have social problems, but I have no clue how to solve them.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            Well, I will say that much of my social problems ended up being solved by realizing they were frequently as much “in my head” as in reality. Call it “CBT mindset” perhaps (although I never did any CBT or was really even familiar with it.).

            Small example: Suppose someone teases me. Deontologically, by the rules we are taught in kindergarten and beyond, this feels wrong. Even consequentially, I feel this act hurts me and is therefore wrong. I get angry, and lash out. Much of this happens in lizard brain, before I even think about it rationally.

            But, from a Bayesian sense, what should my prior be for someone teasing me? Most teasing is just ribbing, a social bonding ritual, therefore I should put a high probability on the idea that my anger is unjustified. Even if if the teasing is in fact intended to hurt me and further my ostracism, my anger only serves to further that cause. In essence, my reaction is what causes the problem. I wasn’t ostracized before, but I am now.

            Shorter explanation, if you can learn how to take a joke, you become more enjoyable to be around. Assuming you are not wanted is a good way to become so.

        • If knowing how smart you are relative to others is really important to you, why not gather hard empirical information on it? Take lots of different tests and perform lots of different tasks that have hard outcomes that aren’t subject to bias. Then you’ll probably be able to identify what areas you’re best capabilities are in too.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          “As a highschooler, I was told over and over again that once I got to college I would stop being among the smartest people in the room, and I’d need to get used to humility.”

          Whether this is likely to be true depends entirely on which high school and college you attend, what activities you choose to engage in, and what you choose to major in. It’s not a foregone conclusion.

          If you went to a large top high school that is heavily tracked, you were segregated into small classes with relatively smart people. There’s not all that much to /do/ in high school so if you were drawn to the very few “smart person” activities and classes – for me it was the chess team and the computer club – you are likely to have met and befriended the smartest people there.

          If you then went to a typical state school the classes were much bigger, there were many more activities/distractions to choose from (notably including “dating” and “drinking”) and even if though were likely some REALLY SMART people somewhere around it would be much easier for you personally not to run into them.

          So your subjective impression could go either way.

          • CJB says:

            I’d also caution you not to place too much weight on intelligence.

            “Smart” is nice. But “less smart, works harder” tends to take the prize. Even if you look at the biographies of whatever “really smart dude” you care to name- with the exception of a few freaks like Mozart and Newton who could apparently pull magnificent new creations out of thin air, the determining factor is the amount of time and effort they put into it.

            Feynman was blessed with extraordinary intelligence and insight. But the most determining factor in his personality, I think, was the part that let him go around and get the first two numbers of every. single. goddamned. filing cabinet….just to play a clever joke or two.

            Also I’d point out that with vanishingly rare exceptions- intelligence isn’t going to mean much until you’re past 30, or are an extraordinary mathematical talent. Fair or not, nice or not, just or not- very few people are going to put significant authority or resources in the hands of someone younger than that.

            Focus on discipline- it’s the thing I lack the most. I’ve got the IQ, the test scores, the SAT scores, the ability to think – but not the ability to buckle down to one really dull task for long periods of time. And it’s cost me a lot.

            Honest suggestion? Get involved with a sport- martial arts or dancing, perhaps, if you can’t tolerate team sports. They’re excellent at teaching you that no- you just have to do this boring thing one thousand times in a row until you’re good at it.

            You sound proud of your intelligence, and justifiably so. But I’m telling you from experience- it can rapidly become a case of crippling overspecialization.

          • 27chaos says:

            That’s an interesting way to characterize Feynman’s safecracking anecdotes, thank you for that.

      • I agree with your theory – it matches anecdotal evidence for me too.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      LWers believe creatine raises IQ? That’s news to me. I’d never heard that theory (unless you mean that it makes vegetarians a little healthier which probably gives them more energy for cognitive tasks). I thought LWers were much more likely than everyone else to believe IQ was fixed and hard to raise.

      I am very not-convinced that everyone’s on the ball and has followed up on the choline study but isn’t talking about it. For example, there’s a large and impressive literature that omega-3 fat supplementation reduces violence in an institutional setting, and practically no one who actually runs institutions is aware of it or supplements omega-3 fats.

      See also my post

      • Ruben says:

        I haven’t personally asked any, but that is where I first heard about it and heard people expressing some degree of belief in the idea (and I know the guy who did the original study, he never brought it up). I think the whole IQ training/N-back stuff was also believed more by less wrongians and their ilk than by any specialist IQ researchers (except the ones who produced the studies maybe).

        It’s on gwern’s website somewhere and a link gives me this:

        But maybe belief is too strong, I think people are more willing to munch it just for a low risk low return strategy, while I’m more willing to go out on a limb and say “if this replicated, the world would look different”, don’t waste your time. I’m more willing to say this for intelligence research where I feel somewhat at home.

        In psychiatry, I feel less at home, but I would also caution that the steep gradient between “pharma thinks they could sell this” vs. not might make you think a topic is neglected in science, when it really only gets the amount of attention that non-pharma-funded topics get in science (i.e. not that much, but it’s not like academics would ignore a HUGE potential).
        And judging from everything I read about meta-science (a lot!) and judging from people’s reactions people always underestimate publication bias (including the studies that people don’t even submit). It’s a humongous distortion. I think you know this and you’re definitely more at home in psychiatry, so maybe you’re right.
        But maybe it’s also just a little bit desirable that you personally hit on a nugget of wisdom that everybody else neglected. I certainly fall prey to that.

        Unrelated to all this: Have you thought about the fact, that a true contrarian doesn’t hold a consistent position? I know that I espouse the advocatus diaboli for “more biology” when talking to students who believe mostly in “social” and “more social” when talking to people like Jayman who’re hardcore hereditarians. I think this way I add spice to debates and maybe weak points in arguments get highlighted more often. So you can only be a correct contrarian if the whole establishment really strongly holds an opinion. If you just like getting into arguments and exposing weak points, but people in the field have lots of fuzzy opinions, you won’t defend a consistent position (but still aid science, I’d say). Don’t know who a good example for this is. Maybe Paul Meehl? Or Fisher re lung cancer (wrong but good points made)?

        • Charlie says:

          LWer here. I actually bought some creatine, but at the time I was also getting back into dancing, which was making my legs sore. The possible link to intelligence was definitely a reason I thought of getting some creatine, and I tried using it regularly for a while, but I didn’t notice a link and ended up just taking it before dancing or running, where it worked great at making me not be sore. I don’t think I ever believed creatine would make me smarter with confidence above 10% or so – in fact, the entire reason I heard about its actual exercise use was reading gwern saying that it didn’t noticeably increase intelligence but it was good for exercise.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Gwern was actually the person who did more than anybody else to debunk the dual-n-back claims online before the final research came out showing that it didn’t work. See .

          • 27chaos says:

            There’s been some more (apparently all-but-definitive?) research done on it? Any idea what that research says about n-back for atypical people with ADHD or other sorts of deficits? Gwern made no definite claims about that, and psych research takes me an enormously long time to read through.

            My current hypothesis is that the claim is probably also bogus in the case of people ADHD, but it is more difficult to prove it bogus since studies can do more subtle tricks. Does that match your impressions?

        • gwern says:

          If we’re going to talk about creatine and DNB… I don’t think LW was pushing DNB harder than intelligence researchers, I think we were pushing it way less. We were not writing things like Nisbett’s review which mentions zero problems or expresses any doubt about n-back, we were not writing the stuff that appeared in the WSJ or NYT or SciAm uncritically reporting about yet another study showing DNB increasing intelligence in kids, we were not the schools spending thousands of dollars a head buying brain games from Lumosity and Cogit (Brain Workshop being free), and we certainly were not rewarding Jaeggi with tenure and her own lab. So were we overly enthusiastic about it and more enthusiastic than the actual experts in question…? (They’re still saying it works, BTW; look at the excuses made in Au et al 2014, and how current research is carefully shying away from the simple two-group design in favor of other tasks – ‘look! maybe this brand new task will work!’ – and other gimmicks like post hoc correlations with personality traits.) I doubt that, but perhaps you know different experts than I do. I think I in particular latched onto the criticisms almost immediately (certainly as soon as Moody published his first critical comment on it) and tracked it all throughout the long years, keeping track of all the null results and eventually compiling the first meta-analysis showing that passive control groups were producing most/all of the gains. Indeed, the pro-n-back people consider me horribly biased against n-back (Jaeggi hasn’t answered my emails in years; Au refused to give me the details behind their competing, smaller meta-analysis; a Michigan institute quietly made a negative n-back study disappear when interim results were disappointing and refused to give me them, claiming the data was lost, which was incidentally a direct violation of their own policies if true; and check out the part in Marcek’s 2014 thesis where he verbally abuses me for being critical of n-back). Or is this another example of OP where we don’t get any credit because ‘all the experts know’ something which was actually very marginal and contrarian at the time…?

          As far as creatine goes: yes, it has low probability. I already know for a fact that publication bias is at play, and besides the usual sampling error problem, the current set of studies is so heterogeneous that the truth could easily be just that vegetarians alone benefit. But I’m always looking at things from a cost-benefit perspective, and creatine is safe, dirt cheap, and useful for exercise as well (which everyone is doing – right?).

  9. Muga Sofer says:

    Huh, I would have put “fieldworkers” *above* “the media” on the pyramid.

    • Marc Whipple says:

      In my field (law) I would have used the same ranking as the OP.

      This is because the media, even if untrained and biased, is all about looking for new and interesting stuff. Working professionals, while they have to keep up to whatever degree legally required of them, are too busy, you know, working. Except for a handful of high-powered appellate lawyers and legal scholars – who are the equivalent of “serious researchers” – I’d guess most legal journalists know more about the current developments in law than most working lawyers. Much more.

      Their understanding of it is best described with scatological metaphors, but they know about it.

      • Deiseach says:

        Part of the lag at Stage Three of the arched pyramid is that it takes a little while for, let’s say, changes to curricula at medical schools to happen. When the admins are convinced that the new textbooks should be ordered, the first batch of doctors has already been trained in the old understanding and are now out practicing in the world.

        So it could be quite possible that a patient did indeed have a doctor tell them “Oh, it’s all serotonin” because that’s what they learned in med school before the newer studies going “Yeah, we were maybe a bit over-confident saying it was all serotonin” percolated into mainstream teaching.

      • Marc Whipple says:


        I used the term “PII” today in front of my coproject-workers. None of them knew what it was.

        I was like, “You’re lawyers, right? This is 2015, right?”

        I’d bet most legal “journalists” would know what it is.

    • gattsuru says:

      Depending on situation, few to very few people actually interact with fieldworkers. If you are diagnosed with depression, you might talk with a psychologist or at least a general practitioner who has a theory of the depressed mind. On the other hand, >90% of the people who saw Inside Out did not have a psychologist their current depression.

      Very few media types see or hear from fieldworkers, and certain architectural decisions for media make it near-impossible to use information from fieldworkers in a story anyway. It’s a little less cut-and-dry with the specific case of depression, but they don’t (and generally can’t) interview their personal doctor, and generally need a second-or-third-rank actor to actually make a newsworthy story.

      This is even more overt when you look to less common conditions, or if where direct interaction with fieldworkers is less common or even restricted.

  10. JayMan says:

    Where are all the developmental psychologists shouting down Judith Rich Harris? I’ve seen a few very specialized psychiatrists argue against Kirsch, but never very heatedly, and usually while granting many of his points. The majority of the profession? Never heard of him and don’t care.

    Two words:

    Gay germ. Give it time. Now when people find out that’s correct, chock a major one up to virtuous contrarians there (Greg Cochran and Paul Ewald in this case).

    • Ruben says:

      Something I didn’t post in the above segment because I thought it was too abrasive:

      If I wanted a certain audience (eg conservatives) to believe something I said with crap evidence, I’d publish a crap small study (or even just some strung-together arguments) showing or purporting strong effects of some hitherto unknown thing for a politically unpopular topic, spout some even more unrelated politically unpopular stuff to make sure sensible people think of me as an ass but in the same turn pandering to a certain audience (i.e. conservatives who feel marginalised in social and life science), use lots of innuendo to talk about conspiracies trying to diss my theory.
      I think this is Cochran’s strategy for his infamous gay germ theory. Pays the rent I guess. I’m not so sure whether he strongly believes it himself.

      Since Jayman brings it up, here’s why Cochran is being mostly ignored about this:
      – There is no plausible mechanism i.e. no known infectious agent.
      – There is not even anecdotal evidence of male homosexual preference spreading like an infection would at least sometimes (horizontally), but this is necessary for it to work (because line-ending infections cannot only be passed vertically).
      – He attacks strawmen (i.e. gay uncle) that are maybe believed by generalists but not experts.
      – He’s not up-to-date with current theories and data by actual experts (eg
      – He has a strong (acknowledged) bias (i.e. he thinks homosexuality is sinful)
      – There is no correct contrarian cluster. Maybe he was right about something by being a contrarian, that doesn’t mean it will be repeated. Arguably he is still on very thin ice about e.g. natural history of ashkenazi intelligence: Please note how he wasn’t published despite trying even though he defends the politically correct position.
      – Edited to add: and of course the fact that this theory can be used to implement a therapy for gays, it is widely politically unpopular among educated people in the Western world. I thought this is somewhat implied in the rest of the post, but wanted to make it explicit since I only accord a lesser role to this, not none.

      Note that this doesn’t mean that people implicating mostly genetics are right or that the “you’re born like this and hence it’s right debate” isn’t stupid or even that theorists like Julien Barthes are right. But JB shows that you can offer a new perspective that may be politically incorrect within science and win awards for it at conferences. The censorship isn’t as bad as Cochran would have you believe.

      • tautology says:

        Cochran is an evangelical Christian? Do you have a citation? He strikes me as extremely cynical and borderline nihilistic… though he does not talk much about himself, more about why others are stupid.

        • B.B. says:

          Razib Khan (David Hume @ Secular Right) says Cochran is a Church-going Christian:

          • Deiseach says:

            Looking at that comment, it says:

            dude, you better watch out 🙂 he’s a religious christian who goes to church. i think perhaps those of us who are secular confuse the public confessional ways of evangelicals with christians writ large.

            By that standard, President Obama is a religious Christian who goes to church:

            So that, one of the churches I met, or one of the churches that I became involved in was Trinity United Church of Christ. And the pastor there, Jeremiah Wright, became a good friend. So I joined that church and committed myself to Christ in that church.

            I don’t know anything about Greg Cochran, but can I say two things:

            (1) PLEASE stop assuming “Christian” means “Evangelical Christian” or “Fundamentalist Christian”. Those are not the only denominational or non-denominational labels in town.

            (2) Recognise the differences: “Fundamentalist” and “fundamentalist” are two different things, as are “Evangelical” and “Fundamentalist”. What church does Cochran go to, if he does go to a church? Epsicopalian? Some variety of Lutheran? Methodist background
            (Hillary Clinton is a Methodist)? Presbyterian? How conservative/progressive is that church? How conservative/progressive are his beliefs? Right now, the avowed atheist and ordained minister of the United Church of Canada, the Rev. Gretta Vosper, is claiming there is no reason she cannot remain in ministry despite not believing in God, Christ, etc.

          • Alraune says:

            Right now, the avowed atheist and ordained minister of the United Church of Canada, the Rev. Gretta Vosper, is claiming there is no reason she cannot remain in ministry despite not believing in God, Christ, etc.

            She is, of course, incorrect about that. Yes, she may be able to keep her job just fine, but she cannot remain in the ministry, because there is clearly no ministry remaining in the United Church of Canada.

      • JayMan says:

        Since Jayman brings it up, here’s why Cochran is being mostly ignored about this

        The real reason is that people are ignorant, idiots, or both.

        There is no plausible mechanism

        Narcolepsy. Polio. Kidney disease derived from strep throat. Type I diabetes. ‘Nuff said.

        i.e. no known infectious agent.

        “around 75 percent of the DNA from any new stool sample—and as much as 99 percent—won’t match any of these known sequences”

        There is not even anecdotal evidence of male homosexual preference spreading like an infection would at least sometimes (horizontally), but this is necessary for it to work (because line-ending infections cannot only be passed vertically).

        This is nonsense. A commonish infection that results in homosexuality in only a small percent of cases is perfectly consistent with what we see.

        He attacks strawmen (i.e. gay uncle) that are maybe believed by generalists but not experts

        Just who are the “experts” on this matter? Judging from the nonsense ideas put forward by serious commenters on this matter, I doubt it matters much.

        He’s picked apart every alternative explanation put forward.

        He’s not up-to-date with current theories and data by actual experts (eg

        I don’t think he’s the one with the problem. Look, all genetic explanations run into trouble because of the low heritability of male homosexuality (<22%), unlike almost any other human trait. Furthermore, proposing some sort of sexual antagonistic selection doesn't work because haven't been able pick up such genes, which should be easy to find.

        and of course the fact that this theory can be used to implement a therapy for gays

        Don’t be so sure. How well does therapy work for para/quadraplegics? Or type I diabetics? Or those suffering from strep-induced kidney failure. Not very well in each case.

        A pathogenic cause might open up the possibility of a vaccine one day, though.

        Arguably he is still on very thin ice about e.g. natural history of ashkenazi intelligence:

        If you believe that I have a bridge for sale, too.

        The facts of Ashkenazi IQ and the selection for such become given once you know:

        1. The heritability of IQ

        2. Ashkenazi accomplishment across the world.

        3. Anything about Ashkenazi history during medieval Europe.

        4. The breeder’s equation.

        Cochran is right about one thing. Part of reason people believe the stupid things that they don’t is because they don’t know things. Many of the “experts” on homosexuality are ignorant about basic facts, like it’s low heritability, not to mention the least thing about pathogens and microbiology. I’m trying my best to remedy that, but it’s not an easy battle.

        • Ruben says:

          Just because a genetic explanation for Ashkenazi intelligence is plausible is does not mean a cultural one or a 50:50 one isn’t plausible too. But we have different priors for this.

          For homosexuality, have you not read JB’s paper. He’s an expert.
          It’s not necessarily a genetic theory, it’s just a competing non-genetic theory based on insights about the basic facts on the ground (that Cochran does not appear to know).

          A super common infectious agent that results in (basically) infertility in 8% would have a lot of selective pressure for immune response. Malaria-style, not narcolepsy, type 1 diabetes, kidney disease style. So please explain to me how MHP resembles polio. Does it exhibit waves?

          • JayMan says:

            HBD Chick’s question: where does culture come from? Funny, Jewish “culture” hasn’t helped non-Ashkenazi Jews perform in Israel.

            As for the rest, everything you’ve brought up has been discussed in the link in my original comment. Please read that and get back to me.

          • Ruben says:

            I’ve read Cochran’s posts on the gay germ.

            I don’t think it is an uninteresting hypothesis either, but there is this impulse among some to jump from “politically unpopular” and “not commonly believed” to “it is certainly true and people refuse to think”. However, sometimes these things are independent (it is simply not commonly believed because there is no compelling evidence yet) and sometimes “politically unpopular” topics in science are not suppressed as much as internet commenters would believe.

            Julien Barthes main contribution in my view was to go back to the anthropological literature and to discover that male homosexuality preference is not universal (but appears in geographically distant populations). Something that isn’t universal may well be novel and as you hopefully well know there’s a lot more theoretical room to explain things that evolution hasn’t acted on for hundreds of thousands of years. So for a lot of work the baseline “What has to be explained” was simply wrong.

            As for his broader theory, don’t necessarily think of it as “MHP is cultural” but think of it as “only with certain cultural novelties did the relevant biological dispositions turn into MHP “.

            Cochran has never acknowledged this anthropological work except by saying that pygmies don’t know about homosexuality. Because the pattern doesn’t fit with an infectious agent or because he doesn’t know.

        • Ahilan Nagendram says:

          The facts of Ashkenazi IQ and the selection for such become given once you know:

          4. The breeder’s equation.

          Just one quibble here.

          When the environment is fixed, the curve of selection for a given trait will be increasing or flat, but its rate of increase will be decreasing. Offspring will always equal or exceed the parents on average, but by less and less with time.
          So what the breeders’ equation really says is that the curve of selection can be approximated by a straight line for a given generation and environment.

          When the environment is changing the offspring may actually underperform the parents. for example, if the parents were selected for size and the children endure a famine.

          But aside from this little quibble, I really got to give it to Cochran for being the giant in the fields he is in (eclipsing the fields of genetics and evolutionary biology without being formally trained.) When it comes to his theories of NHAI and gay germ, the best evidence for them is that all the competing theories are crap, pushed by idiots who don’t know what they’re saying.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thus far enough studies have supported the more-fecund-relatives hypothesis that I don’t see a need to bring in infectious agents at this point.

      • tautology says:

        Cochran is of the opinion that the fitness cost for the male ought to be too high to justify this. Never really convinced me, if the genetic predisposition only gives heightened probability, not complete certainty of homosexuality it negative effect could on average be outweighed.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          If you think that the fitness cost is low enough for this theory to work, then what do you think the fitness cost is? What do you think it was 200 years ago? What do you think it was 50 years ago?

          This is a quantitative problem. If you write down a number, you can see if it works. The fitness cost of homosexuality is the only missing number. The other ingredients are the fertility boost given in Scott’s paper and the heritability of homosexuality.

          Cochran has the beliefs that he does because he has done this exercise, rather than just bloviating.

          • tautology says:

            If the gene causing homosexuality, causes homosexuality with a probability of 10% due to developmental noisiness, and homosexuality halves your fitness, its fitness cost in males is 5%.

            It is not impossible for such a ene to have an upside that is larger.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Identical twin concordance of homosexual men is larger than 1/10, maybe 1/5-1/2.

            “Not impossible” is a pretty weak argument. There are a few known genes in humans with 10% advantage. In every case, the advantage is defense is malaria.

          • tautology says:

            Identical twin concordance of homosexual men is larger than 1/10, maybe 1/5-1/2.

            Except other studies claim values closer to what I suggested, Wiki:
            “They studied 289 pairs of identical twins (monozygotic or from one fertilized egg) and 495 pairs of fraternal twins (dizygotic or from two fertilized eggs) and found concordance rates for same-sex attraction of only 7.7% for male identical twins and 5.3% for females, a pattern which they say “does not suggest genetic influence independent of social context.”[7]”

            “Not impossible” is a pretty weak argument.

            Except it is when confronted with and argument of the form: It is impossible that…
            Or Cochran’s charming insistence that someone disagreeing with him is crazy. Balance of probability might weigh somewhere closer to Cochran’germ than to his treaded gay uncle, but if you have too strong convictions atm, you might wanna reconsider.

      • Ruben says:

        See also Julien Barthes who identifies cultural moderators for this (most importantly who draws into doubt the purported universality of homosexuality). Really interesting talk he gives, most funny bit is where he shows what people have identified as “cave drawings of homosexuality” and lets you make up your own mind.

      • JayMan says:

        It don’t fly. Heritability is simply too low for ANY purely genetic explanation to work. Also, again, no such X-chromosome spots have been detected, which should have been easy to find.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Huh? We can’t find like 99% of the genes that we know have to exist, why should we worry that we can’t find this one?

          Homosexuality is something like 30% heritable. There are loads of things that are fitness-decreasing and 30% heritable – for example, mental disorders. We know a lot of mental disorders increase fitness in unaffected relatives. Are you going to posit a separate germ for each of them? It seems to me to be normal biological variation, plus a genetic tendency which means it isn’t getting selected against very well.

          I agree that there’s a lot of room for things that seem like failures of embryogenesis – things that seem neither social/cultural nor entirely genetic. But half the stuff in the world seems to fall into this category – everything from homosexuality to mental illness to some physical illnesses to some of the non-shared environmental component of IQ. Usually we explain this away with “eh, embryogenesis is hard”. In this case we even have the alternative hypothesis that all of the pseudohormones we stick in the water supply are messing with fetal hormone levels. Why are we looking for a specific germ in this case?

          • JayMan says:

            Huh? We can’t find like 99% of the genes that we know have to exist, why should we worry that we can’t find this one?

            Scott, the mechanism that Ciani proposes – a X-chromosomal loci, would be easy to find in GWAS. They’ve ruled out such loci.

            Homosexuality is something like 30% heritable. There are loads of things that are fitness-decreasing and 30% heritable – for example, mental disorders.

            No. Common mental disorders have heritabilities in 65-90+% range. When I say that homosexuality stands out due to low heritability, I mean it stands out due to low heritability.

            We know a lot of mental disorders increase fitness in unaffected relatives.

            Depression is the only one that may qualify, and unlike the others (which are likely due to genetic load), genes for depression appear to have been selected for.

            Are you going to posit a separate germ for each of them?

            Actually, pathogens may be involved in keeping certain relevant alleles around, perhaps especially in the case of depression.

            It seems to me to be normal biological variation, plus a genetic tendency which means it isn’t getting selected against very well.

            It’s important to understand what natural selection does.

            I agree that there’s a lot of room for things that seem like failures of embryogenesis – things that seem neither social/cultural nor entirely genetic.

            No room at all. Too common, too deleterious. Natural selection would have a huge incentive to ensure that this doesn’t happen. This is covered in one of Cochran’s posts on the matter (see link in my initial comment).

            But half the stuff in the world seems to fall into this category – everything from homosexuality to mental illness to some physical illnesses to some of the non-shared environmental component of IQ.

            Nope. See above on the heritability. Also note that none of those illness are as common as homosexuality. They are completely different animals.

            Why are we looking for a specific germ in this case?

            For the reasons discussed above for starters, and more.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            >> “Common mental disorders have heritabilities in 65-90+% range.”

            No. Heritability of depression is around 30 – 40%. Heritability of general anxiety around 30%, panic around 50%. Heritability of borderline around 40%. You’re thinking solely of schizophrenia, bipolar, and autism.

            (oddly, the more severe the condition, the more heritable it is, which isn’t what I would have predicted at all. Homosexuality seems to be right around the level you would predict from that heuristic.)

            >> “Depression is the only one that may qualify, and unlike the others (which are likely due to genetic load), genes for depression appear to have been selected for.”

            I’ve posted a study here before that shows the same effect with bipolars; I’ll see if I can find it again.

            >> No room at all. Too common, too deleterious. Natural selection would have a huge incentive to ensure that this doesn’t happen. This is covered in one of Cochran’s posts on the matter (see link in my initial comment).

            First, we know embryogenetic variation happens – this is why sometimes one identical twin will have autism and the other won’t. Second, we’ve got so many weird toxins and lifestyle issues and stuff going on these days that whatever evolved factors are supposed to prevent embryogenetic errors are probably overloaded in the same way as whatever evolved factors are supposed to prevent obesity and autoimmune diseases.

            > “Also note that none of those illness are as common as homosexuality. They are completely different animals. ”

            Depression is much more common than homosexuality. So are a lot of things. Most people overestimate the actual number of homosexuals – an easy mistake around these parts, I’ll admit.

          • JayMan says:

            @Scott Alexander:

            Heritability of depression is around 30 – 40%. Heritability of general anxiety around 30%, panic around 50%. Heritability of borderlinearound 40%. You’re thinking solely of schizophrenia, bipolar, and autism.

            No Scott. I’m not. I mean what I said. Measurement error is a factor you need to consider. The heritability of all those things (indeed, all behavioral traits) shoots up when you look at studies that can account for error. Indeed, this point:

            oddly, the more severe the condition, the more heritable it is,

            …is a key clue. See also borderline and histrionic personality disorders.

            >> “Depression is the only one that may qualify, and unlike the others (which are likely due to genetic load), genes for depression appear to have been selected for.”

            I’ve posted a study here before that shows the same effect with bipolars; I’ll see if I can find it again.

            I’d like to see that. I think the Swedish study covers it.

            First, we know embryogenetic variation happens – this is why sometimes one identical twin will have autism and the other won’t.

            Yes, but as Cochran put it, how often does this result in congenital muteness or malformed genitalia? Pretty darned rarely, at best. Natural selection seeks to ensure that very low-fitness phenotypes don’t manifest very often.

            Indeed you can use evolutionary theory to explain the prevalence of various disorders. The frequency of a disorder should be inversely proportional to its fitness impact. If something occurs more frequently than this relationship would predict, it’s a serious sign that something’s up.

            Second, we’ve got so many weird toxins and lifestyle issues and stuff going on these days that whatever evolved factors are supposed to prevent embryogenetic errors

            Is homosexuality new, though? (Though it’s curiously absent in foraging peoples.)

            Depression is much more common than homosexuality.

            As I said, genes for depression show signs of positive selection – it’s not actually a disorder, at least not in a Darwinian sense (it may be more akin to sickle-cell anemia).

            Most people overestimate the actual number of homosexuals

            3-5% of the male population. Disorders caused by genetic load top out at around 1% prevalence. Plus homosexuality is nothing like those (no syndromic versions, no paternal age effect, etc…). As Cochran said, it’s a different kind of crazy.

            (And before anyone jumps down my throat for that one, note that male obligate homosexuality is a bonafide Darwinian disease – a mental illness by any proper definition. It is something that always negatively impacts fitness, in any environment. That said, I don’t personally have any problems with gays. One should be able to discuss facts about people without automatically assumed to harbor ill-will for those people.)

          • gattsuru says:

            Measurement errors seems like a relevant and significant matter for homosexuality. Notoriously so, in fact.

            Sickle-Cell anemia has a prevalence of ~4-5% in West Africa, and while I doubt “gay uncles” have or had near as major an impact as resistance to malaria, it suggest the 1% upper limit is not a hard rule.

      • Brett says:

        I read that paper, and the numbers don’t add up. For an allele that reduces fertility in male carriers (e.g., homosexuals) while increasing fertility in female carriers (e.g., their relatives) to be stable in the population at some fixed percentage, it has to cause approximately the same change in fertility in both. E.g., if male homosexuals have their fertility reduced by 80%, their female carrier relatives have to nearly double their fertility. And that’s not even close to what’s been shown.

        • Cadie says:

          This assumes that the genes involved would always cause a man to be homosexual, instead of it being dependent on the presence of additional genes or other prenatal factors, leading to this happening only some of the time. In the case of the genes playing a large role instead of being the sole factor, female fertility must only increase enough to compensate for the actual number of male homosexuals, not all males with the gene.

          • ryan says:

            Would we then have the problem of not really being able to study the gene’s effect on female relative’s fertility? The fertility data only comes from the small number of women whose relative ended up homosexual.

        • gattsuru says:

          There’s an estimated 30% heredibility of homosexuality under the mainstream theory, so that puts an upper limit on the reduction of fertility in carriers.

          ((It’s also not clear that, either historically or even in the present, reality approaches that upper limit. While some men are so gay that they’re completely uninterested and incapable of passing their genes down without technological assistance — I’ll include myself here — a much larger proportion simply prefer men as romantic and/or sexual partners. Under social or environmental pressures to reproduce, or even sufficient willing opposite-sex partners, and the occasional dalliance is nowhere near as unlikely as folk would expect.))

          I’d also suggest that looking at the last generation and last-three-generations is not representative of either the ancestral environment nor of even the last two thousand years. Even 60 years ago expected family size was not the same as two hundred years ago, and the benefit of your local clan having a number of extra sexually-satiated adult males is a little different when half the men in your local clan are fighting in a war on the other side of the world. Male reproductive alliances in animals aren’t just about day-to-day improvements : they also protect against end-of-line errors like a bigger male ending your entire genetic potential (lions, where small coalitions of unrelated animals surrender >50% of reproductive potential). Humans almost certainly encountered those sorts of risks historically, even if they’re not present now or in very recent times.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            There was a study, I believe around 1980, that found that gay men in the modern world had a fitness of 0.2 (about 0.4 children).

            Yes, it was probably higher 200 years ago. But how high? Do you put a number on it?

          • gattsuru says:

            I’m unable to find that study. Is that absolute or relative fitness?

            The average family in the 1800s United States was four times the size of the average in 1980, so if that’s absolute fitness than we’re looking at around 0.8 even before factoring for the drastic social and economic incentives specific to homosexuality. I’m not familiar enough with the math or history enough to give even a poorly made up number, but I’d honestly be surprised by anything less than an absolute fitness of at least in the mid 2.x range (with high variation), and even that’s probably a little low. Marriage (and marriage oft legally dependent on at least one ‘fruit of the union’ or at least attempts thereupon) were just too common anywhere but the far frontiers, and economics demanded the importance of young labour too greatly. It wasn’t until the 1870s or so that America had enough of a bachelor culture for it to even be possible for older adult gay men to have hidden within it, or to be economically viable outside of the chattering classes.

          • nyccine says:

            lions, where small coalitions of unrelated animals surrender >50% of reproductive potential.

            Are you thinking of wolves? That’s still wrong, but closer to correct, but for lions, that’s completely false. It is rare for multiple males to be in a pride – usually, when you see cooperating males, it’s usually new adults that are either looking for prides to take over, or that have recently been expelled. Females will all mate with the male of the pride as well, with some synchronization of births.

          • gattsuru says:

            It is rare for multiple males to be in a pride – usually, when you see cooperating males, it’s usually new adults that are either looking for prides to take over, or that have recently been expelled.

            The pride concept qua Lion King is a little lies-to-children, and mostly represents female lions. Male lions are far more nomadic in practice, and generally retain reproductive access to a female pride for very short periods of time (four years is very unusual, two typical, contrast 10+ year reproductive lifespan of females.)

            It depends heavily on species and locale — Tsavo lions notably have never been observed showing male reproductive alliances — but many species pretty regularly exhibit male coalitions, and the behavior seems to be dominant once established. Among Serengeti lions, the average number of adult males per pride ends up floating between 1.5 and 1.7, and coalitions with two or three members are as likely as not to include completely unrelated members. These coalitions generally aren’t long-term (both for obvious reasons and the high male mortality rate), but because of the specifics of lion sexuality coalition memberships tends to give near-exclusive access to a fraction of the pride’s lionesses for an oestrus cycle. It’s not /quite/ a (n-1)/n% reduction (more active males may get reproductive access to a larger portion of the pride) compared to single nomads getting access to a full pride, but it’s pretty close. Since it contrasts with single nomads getting access to /no/ part of a pride, or getting killed, unrelated coalitions can show up to 3 males, and related coalitions four to (rarely) eight.

          • JayMan says:


            There’s an estimated 30% heredibility of homosexuality under the mainstream theory, so that puts an upper limit on the reduction of fertility in carriers.

            The heritability is quite a bit lower than that (around 22%).

            Under social or environmental pressures to reproduce, or even sufficient willing opposite-sex partners, and the occasional dalliance is nowhere near as unlikely as folk would expect

            Who’s going to have more children on average, men who are actively pursuing women (and, in many parts of the world, sticking around to raise their progeny) or those are not even trying or barely trying? Iterate that over time. What do you get?

          • gattsuru says:

            The heritability is quite a bit lower than that (around 22%).

            This is… not a very strong source. The Journal of Human Sexuality looks to have been established by a reperative therapy group, the paper’s peer review consisting of the reperative therapy group oking it, the author’s credentials have nothing to do with the topic at hand (and his contact e-mail is a vodafone account?), and the results seem dependent on some rather reaching readings of the referenced underlying studies and selective use of those studies.

            That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong, but especially with the cherry-picking it’s less persuasive than ipse dixit.

            Who’s going to have more children on average, men who are actively pursuing women (and, in many parts of the world, sticking around to raise their progeny) or those are not even trying or barely trying? Iterate that over time. What do you get?

            I’m not arguing that gay men will have more children than straights : I just conceded above that even under harsher social and economic expectations of child-raising, gay men might be as few as half the number of offspring as straight men.

            I’m not even arguing that it must necessarily be genetic — just that the genetic hypothesis is not nearly as obviously wrong as you’re suggesting.

      • nyccine says:

        Why is that study looking at aunts and grandmothers, why not full siblings? And why are they overstating the “higher” fecundity, which is only marginal, and, most importantly, not nearly enough to outweigh the loss to the male from obligate homosexuality.

        There seems to be a common confusion when people see Cochran’s “Obligate Homosexuality is clearly not genetic argument” – they completely miss the obligate part. It’s not a big deal, evolutionarily speaking, if you and I meet on the street, have a coffee, talk about the weather and how the local sports teams are doing, while engaging in homosexual behavior, assuming we both still go home and have kids. It is a big deal, evolutionarily speaking, if we do all that and don’t go home and have kids; keeping in mind that it may not even be enough to have kids at replacement level, if everyone else is having significantly more. If something pops up that hampers our ability to do that, a genetic cause that shows up as commonly as homosexuality does simply isn’t believable.

        I see this same problem in every study shown to me about how homosexuality is genetic because the other relatives have more kids. That’s not the way natural selection works – kin selection has to offset the loss factoring in the genetic distance. Assuming reproduction at only replacement rate, if I am losing all possible offspring due to homosexuality, my sister has to have twice as many kids; anything less, and we are flat-out outcompeted by a normal brother and sister having 2.1 kids each; the numbers get worse if everyone else in our environment is having more viable kids. Aunts and cousins and other distant relatives? The numbers necessary explode.

        • HeelBearCub says:


          “Assuming reproduction at only replacement rate, if I am losing all possible offspring due to homosexuality, my sister has to have twice as many kids; anything less, and we are flat-out outcompeted by a normal brother and sister having 2.1 kids each”

          But, historically we have not reproduced at the replacement rate, rather, far above it. Therefore fecundity is not quite the measure we should be looking at, is it?

          And raw numbers aren’t very relevant either.

          Rather, the question, does a genetic package result in a relatively larger population growth over the long term. Reduced loss of offpsring (relative to others) due to a variety of factors can be a great differentiator as well.

          And this advantage may not need to be constant. A given set of conditions may result in the particular adaptation being less fit, but so long as conditions that result in improved fitness occur often enough, the genetic package will survive.

          • nyccine says:

            But, historically we have not reproduced at the replacement rate, rather, far above it?

            You do realize that this makes the argument for genetic homosexuality harder, not easier, don’t you? Go back to my example; if we raise the expected number of children to 4, then one family’s brother and sister marrying off and having 4 kids each, then the benefit to fecundity for the sister of the gay man must allow her to have 8 kids just for the numbers to break even; anything less, and the mutation is deletrious overall, and will be outcompeted. And while we’ve all seen old-timey photos of huge rural families, it was never the case where the average number of kids was that high.

            Rather, the question, does a genetic package result in a relatively larger population growth over the long term

            No. No, no, no, no, no. This is emphatically not how natural selection works, not even for the eusocial insects. This is why kin selection theory was developed; genes cannot be spread if you aren’t reproducing, and for altruism to develop you have to have numbers in proportion to genetic distance. If an genetically unrelated neighbor has more kids because of my sacrifice, then the genes that led to my sacrifice are gone, hence Hamilton’s rule.

    • This is one of the very few theories which I think should be suppressed, regardless of evidence or plausibility. Think how acceptance of this theory would play out in various non-western countries.

    • James D. Miller says:

      That is one of the very few theories which I think should be suppressed, regardless of evidence or plausibility. Think how acceptance of this theory would play out in various non-western countries.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The real theory is that having the flu* at age 3 has a chance, conditional genetic brain structure and genetic ability to fight off the flu, of producing adult homosexuality. That theory is perfectly harmless, but if you suppress it, you get the theory you are thinking of.

        * or something equally common.

      • JayMan says:

        The truth has an awful way of eventually getting out, because people can discover and rediscover facts about the world on their own.

        That said, I have argued that the reception probably won’t be very good:

        Gay Germ Fallout? | JayMan’s Blog

      • AngryDrake says:

        Doing evil to bring about good?

      • nyccine says:

        You mean how it’s already playing out in non-western countries? You think it’s going to get worse for gay people in Uganda (how?) if the germ theory of homosexuality gains hold?

        This is to say nothing of the horrifying implications of such a policy; you’re seriously ok with saying that millions of people who otherwise would have had lives, if not happier, at least no worse off, except for the misfortune of catching a bug, should be made to suffer, all in some quixotic attempt to stop harm to current homosexuals? Wouldn’t a preventive vaccine be substantially preferable, in the long-term? This would be akin to demanding that the polio vaccine should have been suppressed, and instead we should have worked at making society more tolerant of those who suffered from it (because we apparently can’t do both?), or the current trend of deaf parents refusing to allow treatment of deaf children. It’s absolutely horrifying to think of being so selfish.

    • SebZear says:

      I’ve posted this elsewhere but it was there, as here, in response to JayMan’s gay pathogen hypothesis.

      Given that it’s utterly stupid to presume that the *same* pathogen can create gynephilia in females (i.e. lesbianism) and androphilia in males (i.e. gayness), it follows that the gay pathogen hypothesis only explains male homosexuality -or- that there are two separate pathogen hypotheses for both forms of homosexuality. The question that immediately follows is whether the gay male pathogen can also create androphilia in females (i.e. female heterosexuality) [and also whether the lesbian female pathogen can also create male heterosexuality]. One can then cogitate on the possibility for this pathogen to perhaps be a viral element, perhaps a virus that has found its way into the human genome. Perhaps, maybe… a gene.

      My preferred hypothesis starts with the observation that just like the undifferentiated embryo can produce either a penis or a clitoris, the undifferentiated embryo can also produce either androphilia or gynephilia. All you need to explain homosexuality at that point is that there exist a less than 100% fidelity in XY -> penis, gynephilia ; XX -> clitoris, androphilia. (Since someone with XY, female genitalia, and gynephilia would be a homosexual, not a heterosexual, because these terms refer to sexuality mismatch to genitalia, not sexuality mismatch to karyotype.) Given the occurrence of failure in XY -> penis and XX -> clitoris which occurs about .1% of the time (, and given that homosexuality damages fitness MUCH less than intersexuality, and given that genetic factors are probably less deterministic on neural tissue than other kinds of tissue, it follows that homosexuality should be much more common than .1%.

      Finally, the gay pathogen could only possibly function by co-opting the development of the andro/gynephilia systems (because male androphilia is the essentially same thing as female androphilia). That is, all of the machinery that my explanation needs is also needed in the gay pathogen explanation, along with the extra machinery of a pathogen. One is reminded not to multiply entities beyond necessity.

      Finally [again], my explanation can easily be adjusted to explain transsexuality and all other varieties of female traits occurring in ostensibly male bodies and of male traits occurring in ostensibly female bodies. The pathogen hypothesis is not thus adjustable (at least not without further multiplying entities). The fundamental point is that the human genome is already in a state of being capable of producing the full breadth of both female and male characteristics, and it’s a clear violation of Occam’s razor to assert that it is not the human genome, but rather some external pathogen, that on its own creates these female and male characteristics in a certain subset of human bodies.

      See also:

      Addendum: I am the FIRST person in this entire thread to use the concepts of androphilia and gynephilia. Shame on ALL of you for your sloppy thinking.

  11. Kingnothing says:

    Is the genetic explanation for lactose intolerance really the position of experts?
    It’s what I learned in school so I was surprised when I lived in east Asia and everyone under 30 happily consumed dairy products (not lactose free ones). On the other hand a lot of my vegan Caucasian friends developed lactose intolerance within a few years.
    The explanation of my Asian friends to, why the heck they can handle lactose even though they should be genetically incapable, was:
    As long as you continuously use lactose products up from childhood, you stay tolerant. So their own generation and large parts of their parents generation actually stayed lactose tolerant.

    • It’s a specific mutation in the gene that is supposed to turn off lactose processing after weaning.

      • Randy M says:

        Are there more than one mechanism/condition? A more severe one mediated by genetics, and a lesser syndrome that is lumped in with it mediated by gut-biome?

        • Svejk says:

          The lactose tolerance/lactase persistence mutation is one of the better understood polymorphisms in the human genome. There is one mutation preventing the downregulation of lactase enzyme production (the enzyme which digests milk sugar) after early childhood shared among almost all lactose-tolerant Europeans. Interestingly, convergent phenotypes have arisen independently in multiple populations with a history of pastoralism in various regions of Africa and the Arabian peninsula, and it is likely that there are several more mutations yet to be found in other populations. The mutations in various milk-drinking populations all occur within the same genomic region, at slightly different positions. It is likely that certain configurations of the gut microbiome ameliorate some of the consequences of being a wildtype milk drinker, since it is the microbiome that processes undigested macronutrients in the lower intestine.

  12. Mitchell Powell says:

    “Harris was pursuing a psychology PhD but quit for health reasons and did most of her research independently.”

    Not according to her book. According to her book Harvard kicked her out because they thought she lacked promise.

  13. Brian says:

    For this sort of crackpot chipping away, take a look at Imre Lakatos, rather than Kuhn.

    Besides not having the problem that, by definition, a paradigm covers *all* of science. Yes, all of it. Every single field and subfield and thing which claims the mantle of science and is not mocked for being psuedoscience (::sigh::). Lakatos posits a hard core:

    First, I claim that the typical descriptive unit of great scientific achievements is not an isolated hypothesis but rather a research programme. [Science is not simply trial and error, a series of conjectures and refutations.] ‘All swans are white’ may be falsified by the discovery of one black swan. But such trivial trial and error does not rank as science. Newtonian science, for instance, is not simply a set of four conjectures – the three laws of mechanics and the law of gravitation. These four laws constitute only the ‘hard core’ of the Newtonian programme. But this hard core is tenaciously protected from refutation by a vast ‘protective belt’ of auxiliary hypotheses. And, even more importantly, the research programme also has a ‘heuristic’, that is, a powerful problem-solving machinery, which, with the help of sophisticated mathematical techniques, digests anomalies and even turns them into positive evidence. For instance, if a planet does not move exactly as it should, the Newtonian scientist checks his conjectures concerning atmospheric refraction, concerning propagation of light in magnetic storms, and hundreds of other conjectures which are all part of the programme. He may even invent a hitherto unknown planet and calculate its position, mass and velocity in order to explain the anomaly.

    And these research programmes compete by being in “progressive” or “degenerative” states:

    Thus, in a progressive research programme, theory leads to the discovery of hitherto unknown novel facts.

    In degenerating programmes, however, theories are fabricated only in order to accommodate known facts.

    So, one might assert that these research programmes of “crackpots” may be progressive or degenerate, as a function of their fact-discovery (and not fact-explaining-away) properties. Rather than as a Kuhnian “wait for the believers in the old paradigm to, quite literally, die/retire.” hand-off.

    • Peter says:

      Why haven’t more people heard of Lakatos? Come to think of it, why haven’t I read any Lakatos? As far as I can tell he seems to have a much firmer grip on science than Popper – certainly when I’d completed my PhD (chemistry) and done some reading of philosophy of science that’s the impression I got. But I did a poll of my friends and loads had heard of Popper and few had heard of Lakatos.

      From the lecuture you link to, it seems that the LWish Bayesian approach is the one Popperians think Popper has succeeded; personally I don’t agree with the Popperians. I think it’s possible, at least in principle, to assign non-infinitesimal prior probablities to scientific theories[1], thus these probabilities can vary in relation to the evidence and Popper’s criticism doesn’t go through. Content note: this is based on secondary sources (your article), not Popper himself, and in my experiences you can’t rely on secondary sources to tell you precisely what someone’s view is when trying to refute it.

      [1] Or at any rate classes of scientific theories, just like with a random variable from a standard normal distribution, the probability of getting any specific outcome exactly is zero, but you can nevertheless define probability densities, and the probability of getting an outcome within an interval.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      “Why haven’t more people heard of Lakatos?”

      That’s an interesting question! First, it’s important not to exaggerate Lakatos’s lack of influence– whenever anyone talks about “research program(me)s”, their use of the concept ultimately traces back to his work. But here are some possible reasons:

      –Lakatos died very young, less than a decade after he started working on philosophy of science, and only shortly after he was ejected from Popper’s circle for his heresies. Popper had a cult of personality built up over decades evangelizing for him.
      –Lakatos developed a systematic approach to the normative evaluation of science at a time when systematic approaches to the normative evaluation of science were falling out of fashion. Philosophy of science now focuses primarily on a) careful research into narrow episodes in the history of science and b) the elucidation of concepts in individual sciences, so there is no one left to take up his mantle.
      –Lakatos espoused some politically unpopular views about (surprise!) racial differences in human intelligence.

  14. The crackpots seem to be met with violent opposition. The virtuous contrarians seem to be met with – well, almost boredom. No one is particularly interested in adopting their ideas, but no one is particularly interested in arguing against them either.

    (on the other hand, Time Cube Guy is met with boredom by serious astronomers, either because he’s too small to be noticed or too small to be worth refuting, so it’s not like it’s a great heuristic)

    It comes down to plausibility or the ‘smell test’

    Time cube? Obviously impossible, so it’s met with indifference.

    low-carb diets can solve the obesity epidemic? Autism and vaccines? String theory? Possible. Much harder to disprove prima facie and hence much more controversy. String theory, or something similar to it, may be true…we can’t immediacy rule it out.

    John Baez’s Crackpot Index offers thirty points for “fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.”

    a little jaded, much?

    10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn’t explain “why” they occur, or fails to provide a “mechanism”.

    Isn’t that the whole foundation of the standard model and high energy physics, to try to fund the fundamentals particles that explain the mechanism behind physical phenomena?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Creationism and homeopathy are wildly implausible, but get people angry. Autism-vaccine and global warming denialism are both prima facie plausible before the experiments are done, but they also get people angry. Harris on parenting, Kirsch on antidepressants, etc are also prima facie plausible, but they don’t get as many people angry.

      • Which global warming denialism? “There is no global warming”? “The Social Cost of Carbon is probably under $100 per ton”? “We can fix the problem with nukes and carbon burial”?

        • Many Climate Change proponents lump all denialisms together, and presume that anyone who denies any part of the program can be defeated by evidence that the climate changes over time.

          • ryan says:

            It’s quintessential Motte and Bailey technique. You don’t think this 100 year climate model projection is a reliable basis of public policy? Are you saying CO2 isn’t a greenhouse gas?

        • gbdub says:

          +1 on this question – Scott uses “denialism” fairly frequently, and I’m curious where he draws the line. The “consensus” theory proposes many conclusions:
          1) Earth is warmer than it was pre-industrial revolution
          2) All else being equal, an atmosphere with more CO2 / methane is measurably warmer than one with less
          3) The increase in average temperatures since the industrial revolution is primarily driven by human activity
          4) Temperatures will continue to rise, to a level that will have significant/catastrophic negative impacts
          5) We must act immediately using political power to curb CO2 production, because not doing so will cost us much more in the long run.

          Personally, I agree with #1 and #2, and think it may be fair to label someone who doesn’t as a “denialist”. I lean yes on #3 but am not 100% convinced. It would certainly be fair to consider #3 a strong scientific consensus though.

          I think uncertainties on the second and third order effects of raising CO2 levels (which catastrophic warming scenarios rely on), uncertainty regarding pre-modern climate, as well as “unknown unknowns” about various other climate modulating mechanisms (the sun, interaction with the ocean, etc.) render our predictions 50-100 years out fuzzy at best, and preclude strong conclusions on 4 and especially 5.

          So am I a denialist? (I’m definitely a cynic, in that I think most calls for 5 have at least as much to do with political power as with actual desire to improve the climate)

          • AnonBosch says:

            I know he’s a super-busy dude, but I think it would be cool to see an SSC-style “much more than you wanted to know” post regarding ((C)A)GW, even if half of it would inevitably be paraphrasing the IPCC.

            It’s a debate that has an incredibly outsized heat-to-light ratio because of Inception-style jumping to different layers of the existence/attribution/extent/harms tetrafecta that is ALSO shot through with issues that transcend all layers and are primarily used as a sort of argumentative escape hatch (e.g., “even if the data says this, you can’t trust scientists because [grants/climategate/blue-tribe-loyalty]”)

          • Buckyballas says:

            To clarify, are you skeptical about 4a (temperatures will continue to rise) or 4b (… that will have significant/catastrophic impacts)? If it’s 4b, it seems to me that the causal model of temperature rise -> sea level rise -> some “significant” bad things happening seems pretty obvious (ignoring the less clear proposed mechanisms for disaster, e.g. stronger storms, biodiversity loss, famine, etc.) . Do you agree? If 4a, I guess you are relying on the “unknown unknowns” you mentioned overcoming the anthropogenic forcing (I assume you accept that there is some level of anthropogenic forcing based on your acceptance of 1 and 2 and qualified acceptance of 3)? It seems to me that 4 is more or less inevitable after accepting 1, 2, and 3 (and sea level change data).

            I think it’s fine to be skeptical about the accuracy of the predictive models, but I don’t know if that justifies inaction (political or otherwise). If you were taking a hot bath and you recorded data showing that the bath kept getting hotter as you dropped hot coals in it, you’d probably stop dropping coals once the bath started getting too hot even if your model didn’t include second order effects like evaporative cooling or natural convective heat transfer. (edit: sorry crappy analogy. global climate is obviously way more complicated. but still, to see the existing trends and hope for an unknown unknown fix seems like a bad move)

          • ryan says:

            What is the word for someone who is skeptical that a trend in observed surface temperature is an error free proxy of an identical trend in heat in the O/A system? It’s lonely over here. I may be the only person in the world who thinks we really ought to have been measuring both temperature and humidity all this time and then plotting trends in average surface specific enthalpy.

          • Gbdub says:

            I am skeptical about 4a. My admittedly incomplete understanding is that “anthropogenic forcing” is a lot more complex than chucking coal into a bathtub. A large portion of the predicted catastrophic warming relies on second and third order effects – things like changes in ocean evaporation rates etc. the actual first order impact of more CO2 is real but not big enough to be catastrophic without these higher order effects. And my sense is that our uncertainty about these effects is much higher than our uncertainty about the direct impact of CO2. Much has been made of the so-called “pause” in global warming – to me the most important thing about that is that it revealed a gap in our knowledge of what’s driving climate on a decade timescale (when the whole of AGW is less than a century). Whether we can post-hoc fit that to our theory or not is less important than the humbling effect it should have on future prediction.

            Beyond that, I’m concerned that we are relying heavily on very spotty data to have a sense of what “normal” climate really is. We also have a pretty vague notion of what weather patterns/local climate would really be like in a world warmed X degrees.

            Any uncertainty at all in 4a or 4b invites skepticism of 5. For one thing, I suspect technology will largely (and naturally) limit the use of fossil fuels within the next 50 years or so, as non fossil sources get better and cheaper, we get more efficient, etc. A massive political effort to speed this up might cost a lot for minimal gain.

            Also, without an accurate prediction of sea level rise, we can’t say with certainty whether it makes sense to make massive expenditures to prevent warming vs. spending money to mitigate the impact. We know the former would be pretty huge.

          • Buckyballas says:


            Surface specific humidity data here. Since humidity and temperature are going up, that means surface enthalpy is going up right? Data also show both 0-700 and 0-2000m ocean temperature is going up. Upper troposphere temperature also going up. Point taken that this is still not a perfect picture of the whole ocean/atmosphere energy system, but it’s adding up don’t you think?

            Thanks for the clarification. I agree that the whole ocean temperature explanation for the apparent pause does seem a bit post-hoc, and that we should use caution when relying on incomplete model predictions. From my understanding, the first order effect of doubling CO2 concentration would be a 1C increase in T (source: wiki), and it’s the other effects, some of which have been verified against historical data, that push the sensitivity up. See obviously biased against your viewpoint but still useful website for a nice primer. I would be interested in a cost-benefit analysis of various policy prescriptions given the most conservative, median, and most aggressive model predictions. My guess is that even under conservative models, we can still rationally take a number of political and personal measures to reduce our chances of catastrophe.

            Full disclosure: I work in solar, so I have a bias towards doing more rather than doing less.

          • ryan says:

            @Bucky B

            Absolutely that’s what it means. My concern is that modelers are trying to match a trend in a fundamentally irrelevant variable. I imagine the reason is the same as the reason why the link you gave only has data back to 1971, that prior to then it’s just not available. Heat accumulates, “temperature accumulation” is utterly meaningless. Yet modelers trying to reckon changes from the late 19th century to the present are stuck having to treat the second as if it had some kind of meaning.

            To restate, it’s consensus wisdom that the global average surface temperature has increased by approximately 0.3% in the last century. Is that a good or bad proxy for change in heat content of the O/A system? I don’t know how to attempt to answer that question. But climate modeling, attempts at reckoning the effect of releasing heat trapping gasses into the atmosphere, has to basically shrug its shoulders and hope a model exhibiting a 0.3% increase in heat content as a 0.3% increase in surface temperature is evidence of reliability for discerning feedback effects, predicting the future, and so on.

            Light years short of an ideal situation.

          • Chalid says:

            Gbdub, uncertainty about the higher-order effects is a reason to worry more, not less, since the negative effects are likely to be nonlinear with respect to the temperature change. I think if you believe in your #3 then there is no real reason to have a strong prior on climate staying stable even as the forcing causing #3 has increased.

          • pku says:

            That seems reasonable as far as it goes, but even a low percent belief in 3 should imply a strong support of 5. There’s a general argument here I hear sometimes – “climate science is fuzzy and we can’t be totally sure, therefore we should ignore it”, when even a low probability of massive man made climate change would imply we should be willing to do a lot to avoid it.

          • Gbdub says:

            @chalid – what is your (and the climate change community’s) basis for assuming that all the uncertain non linearities point in one direction? Earth has gone billions of years of significant climate and CO2 fluctuation without succumbing to Venus-like runaway warming. Clearly not all the feedbacks are positive (not that we need to go full Venus to be very bad, my point is just that Earth seems to be a reasonably stable system).

            @pku – that just doesn’t follow. If the catastrophic warming theory is correct, then substantially preventing it would require truly draconian measures. At a minimum you doom billions of people to continued poverty until clean energy gets super cheap. Is that worth a 50% reduction in risk? A 5% reduction? The point is it’s a question that depends on the %, not an easy answer.

            And again, much of my skepticism of 5 is driven by a belief that any realistic political effort is going to be hijacked by interests not conducive to actually fixing the problems, but still with substantial negative impact on quality of life.

          • Chalid says:

            I am not saying that most of the feedbacks are positive (obviously not). I’m saying the cost to humanity grows faster than linearly with temperature change. So if you think that temperature will be 2 degrees hotter +/- 2 degrees, that is much worse than if you think temperature will be 2 degrees hotter +/- 0.5 degrees.

            One degree hotter is no big deal; five degrees hotter and we have to think about how to evacuate coastal cities, rework our entire agricultural system, adjust to tropical diseases and abandon hot parts of the globe.

          • James Picone says:


            I suspect you might be misinterpreting ‘positive feedback’.

            No climate scientist thinks that the feedback is over-unity – that is, that a CO2 forcing of 1c leads to additional feedback warming of >1c. That would be a runaway to infinite temperature, is obviously nonphysical, etc. If you’re interpreting ‘positive feedback’ as ‘more than 1c of additional warming for 1c of forcing’, you’re going to be confused.

            ‘positive feedback’ means >0c additional warming for each 1c of forcing. Net feedback is positive, almost certainly. It’s essentially impossible to get Earth to leave ice ages without positive feedback – the forcings involved just aren’t significant enough. Not only that, but the largest feedback is the water-vapour feedback, which is very strongly positive.

            The people who talk about serious runaway feedback are likely talking about the clathrate gun hypothesis – basically a oneshot large positive feedback coming from frozen methane at the poles. AFAIK most climate scientists think the clathrate gun hypothesis is false, the magnitudes don’t line up. Realclimate did a couple of good posts on it.

            There are negative feedbacks, of course. In some formulations, the Planck response – the Earth radiating more energy to space when warmer – is treated as a negative feedback.

            Earth’s climate is not even remotely stable over the long-term. I’ve mentioned ice ages already, but there’ve also been periods where Earth’s climate was substantially warmer than it is now. Like, more than 8c warmer. That’s why climate scientists don’t assume that Earth’s climate has net negative feedback.

        • James Picone says:

          Christ, I get busy and don’t check the site and there’s a global-warming comment chain.

          There’s an ethical reason people lump those kinds of denialism together, and it’s to resist a bait-and-switch. You have *no idea* exactly how many people have utterly unprincipled views here, they just know that whatever Global Warming is, it’s not that. They will happily shift between levels in gbdub’s layercake above, and they’ll take on weird inconsistent inter-layer positions.

          I’m not just talking about random members of the public, I’m talking about darlings of the denialist community. Judith Curry does it. Anthony Watts does it a lot. Roy Spencer does it. They vary on the levels they’ll hit – I don’t think Curry or Spencer are willing to go to greenhouse-effect denial, whereas Watts goes there sometimes – but they’re all very willing to endorse anyone toeing their party line, regardless of consistency or level on the denial scale. Curry endorses the GWPF, who do often hit greenhouse-effect denial. Watts regularly posts stuff from Tim Ball, a greenhouse effect denier and all-around conspiracy theorist, and stuff from Steve Goddard, whose opinions are only consistent and sensible if you assume the second law of thermodynamics isn’t a thing.

          There’s no point distinguishing between Curry’s ‘sophisticated’ opinions and Tim Ball’s nutcase opinions. When push comes to shove, they’ll each endorse the other, because anything but carbon.

          RE: The Pause, do I really have to keep pointing this out? It’s not statistically meaningful. Here’s a paper that did change-point analysis on temperature datasets and found there’s not enough evidence for one any later than the 1970s. Another paper can be found in this PDF, by Foster and Abraham, that performs a wide variety of statistical analyses of temperature data and can’t find any evidence for a pause.

          It’s noise. Not signal.

          There’s some justification in looking for reasons the noise is low at that period of time. It’s interesting. But it has very little impact on the actual expected behaviour. Notice that despite the ‘pause’, 2014 is the best candidate we have for warmest year on record, and 2015 is shaping up to be warmer.

          Finally, for crying out loud, uncertainty cuts both ways. There are unknown unknowns, yes. Why does everyone always assume they can only reduce the predictions? The ozone hole was an unknown unknown, too – it was expected that the ozone layer would thin evenly across the entire globe, not have substantially more thinning in a smaller area. Sometimes the scientists were insufficiently pessimistic.

          Ryan: Ocean heat content is the best measure of heat trapped in the climate system. Ice melt is negligible, atmospheric temperature is something like 5-10%, evaporation is negligible.

          Here’s a graph. Option 2 (OHC, 0-2000m) is the most representative one there. It’s pretty trending upwards in a reasonably nice line.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            RE: The Pause, do I really have to keep pointing this out? It’s not statistically meaningful.

            Grant Foster aka “Tamino” is highly motivated and darned good at his climate apologetics but the reason he (and you) are now going against the consensus on this is that the “pause” went on just a little too long for comfort. (The current favored talking point is that there WAS a “pause” in surface temperature trends but the missing heat “went into the ocean” and renewed warming is imminent or has already resumed.)

            Here is the sort of chart Tamino and the “skepticalscience” crew really liked to trot out back when it suggested acceleration rather than deceleration in the up-until-then rate of warming. Turnabout is fair play, so I’ve updated it to the present day. Here you go: temperature trend-of-trends.

            I used the “WoodForTrees” temperature series (which is an average constructed from these four series: GISTEMP, HADCRUT3VGL, RSS, UAH) and added a bunch of trend lines so we could look at the trend OF the trends. These trends represent the last 30 years, 20 years, 10 years, and 5 years – all ending on the current month and fitting lines to the prior (some multiple of 12 months) data points.

            The 30 year trend shows some warming. The 20 year trend shows less warming than the 30. The 10 year trend shows even less warming than the 20, and the 5 year goes so far as to actually show cooling. Just eyeballing it, the trends look to be approximately:

            30 year: 0.13/decade warming
            20 year: 0.10/decade warming
            10 year: 0.03/decade warming
            5 year: -0.2/decade cooling

            Okay, so we all know 5 years is too short to be meaningful and that I just lucked out on that one – it could easily have gone wildly the other way. (and might have, if I’d picked a different series) But the rest of that set ought to, shall we say, give you “pause” given that the rate of warming is supposed to be increasing right about now, not decreasing or flattening. There is no way to get to the sort of warming predicted in, say, RCP8.5 without a pretty hefty acceleration of trend.

            If you steelman “the pause” you can find evidence for it. Tamino prefers to weakman “the pause” into something he can claim there’s “no evidence” for, by which he means it doesn’t quite yet fall out of the envelope he has retroactively constructed, so he can’t say with 95% certainty that the envelope is a bad model of reality.

            (Although being, only say, 80% certain of a pattern would still be an interesting finding, so calling that failure “no evidence” seems like overkill to me. But what do I know… 🙂 )

          • James Picone says:

            @Glen Raphael
            I disagree that Tamino’s position is ‘against consensus’. The position “No change in trend” and the position “These values are below the trend line, I wonder why” are not mutually exclusive. The preponderance of La-Nina conditions in the most recent decade-and-a-half likely has something to do with the appearance of a pause, yes. That doesn’t mean the trend has actually changed.

            Can you link me to SkS or Tamino showing a chart like the one you link to suggest acceleration of temperature change? I am skeptical of your framing.

            I don’t think your graph is strong evidence for a pause. You know why. If you showed error bars on those trendlines, it’d be immediately obvious, especially if you corrected for autocorrelation.

            Interestingly, all the individual component datasets of the WFT index have a strongly positive final trend. I suspect the index hasn’t been updated for the last couple of months.

            Accusing Tamino of constructing his envelope so the pause gets failed is utterly unsupportable. He’s more than fair. He tries literally every point the pause could start on. He allows for a discontinuous break in trend. He tries it on the four main temperature datasets. AIC for the linear-since-1970 model is better than AIC for all the piecewise linear models, still. That’s really what the changepoint analysis is showing, too.

            Please show me what the steelmanned pause argument looks like. If it’s the graph you’ve already shown, I’m not impressed.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Interestingly, all the individual component datasets of the WFT index have a strongly positive final trend.

            Nope. HadCRUT3 is one of the components that shows a decline for the past decade or so.

            [Tamino] is more than fair. He tries literally every point the pause could start on. He allows for a discontinuous break in trend. He tries it on the four main temperature datasets.

            I’ve highlighted the problem. Yes, he did use four temperature datasets. But what makes those four the main ones? He could have tried it on a satellite dataset – UAH or RSS – or on the earlier land-and-sea dataset HADCRUT3…but all of those would show “the pause” much better than the sets he chose.

            Tamino made two crucial decisions here prior to analysis. (1) Which datasets to use. (2) When to do the analysis on them. Having made those choices as he did, he could be reasonably fair from then on and still get the result he wanted.

            When the Pause was new, Tamino was able to dismiss it by presenting charts that grouped data into 5- or 10-year buckets. But by 2010 or so that wasn’t working – the land and sea area that we had decent temperature records for wasn’t showing much recent warming according to HADCRUT3 nor was the entire earth as recorded by satellite. This motivated the development of two NEW data sets, two of Tamino’s four – first HADCRUT4 then Couton&Way managed to find more warming by infilling and extrapolating across the arctic.

            In the last few decades satellites show it has been getting warmer near the arctic but simultaneously getting cooler near the antarctic. HADCRUT4 involved finding overlooked temperature sensors in parts of the north that had had spotty coverage (“infilling”) but did NOT similarly extend coverage to the south, thereby skewing the temperature trend hotter. Couton&Way did this even more so – they algorithmically filled in more of the arctic by extrapolating from the sensors we have to areas where we don’t have any.

            At around the same time there were also some huge adjustments to GISS that retroactively made it show more warming than it had done previously, both currently and in the past.

            But if we simply look at the world temperature trend using the SAME kind of data set calculated much the SAME way as was done in the 1990s and early 2000s – that is, if we use HADCRUT3 – the trend for the last decade is flat and 1998 is still the global warmest year on record – higher than 2005, 2010, or 2014. (See chart, noting also the North/South differing trends. Related graphs and data here)

            UPDATE: Tamino’s blog has moved a couple of times and seems to have lost all the older posts – I was hoping to link both the “trend-of-trends” thing you asked about and the “trend of decadal averages” thing I mentioned above but they don’t seem to exist anymore.

          • James Picone says:

            Nope. HadCRUT3 is one of the components that shows a decline for the past decade or so.

            Ahhhh, I was comparing against HadCRUT4, didn’t spot you noting that WfT uses HC3 for whatever reason. That explains it. HC3 vs HC4, HC4 has data since 2015, and it’s slightly different.

            All these barely perceptible differences in datasets causing wild swings in five and ten year trends should tell you something.

            I’ve highlighted the problem. Yes, he did use four temperature datasets. But what makes those four the main ones? He could have tried it on a satellite dataset – UAH or RSS – or on the earlier land-and-sea dataset HADCRUT3…but all of those would show “the pause” much better than the sets he chose.

            He did do it on RSS and UAH. The ‘four main’ datasets are GISTEMP, HADCRUT, RSS and UAH. Because all of the other global temperature datasets – like Cowtan&Way – are reanalysis products of one of those four. RSS actually makes the most recent pause period look less pause-y in some methodologies, at least when Tamino did it, because it’s got lower 1979->1998 trend than the surface temperature datasets (what with ENSO being huge in lower-trophosphere trends).

            Show me a changepoint analysis of a global temperature dataset that has a changepoint after the 1970s. Or a trend later than the 1970s that doesn’t include the 1970->breakpoint in its error bars (remembering to correct for autocorrelation!). Or a AIC test of a piecewise-linear model that demonstrates it is better than a linear model and has the break after the 1970s. I don’t think it exists. And I think that’s fair to ask.

            I don’t understand the complaint that GISTEMP has been adjusted and shows more warming. For starters, the overall effect of the adjustments is tiny in the present and reduces warming overall – see Victor Venema’s blog post about it. Secondly, if the small dataset changes caused by adjustments make trends flail around wildly, that means the trends were bad and nonrepresentative. Thirdly, if a dataset has some identified issue making it less representative of global temperature than it could be, why would you want to use it to make conclusions about global temperature when there’s a newer version that is supposed to fix the issue?

            Don’t like Cowtan & Way’s kriging work? Produce your own dataset kriging over Antarctica. Does it even have the same data coverage issues the Arctic does? I’m honestly not sure it would even reduce the trend – polar amplification is a thing, land trends are larger than sea trends. The data I’ve been able to find suggest that Antarctic temperatures are all over the damn place, with huge warming (like, 3c) in some places and cooling in others. Maybe it’s just not uniform enough for C&W’s statistical approach to work.

            Here’s an archive of old Open Mind posts from olden days. IIRC some guy Tamino argued with made legal threats and Tamino’s old webhost caved, but I’m not very certain.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Judith Rich Harris’s 1998 book “The Nurture Assumption” came with a foreword by MIT superstar professor Steven Pinker.

      • ryan says:

        A chemist using a test reactor to calibrate a rate equation for a catalyst and a climatologist using a GCM to estimate equilibrium climate sensitivity are both doing “specialized research” but otherwise their practices have nothing to do with each other. The second methodology has no empirically established reliability and people are insanely overconfident in the conclusions drawn from it.

        It’s all just baffling. How can the rationalist community not notice that climate change theory is equally good at explaining any outcome?

        • Professor Frink says:

          I’m assuming the members of the rationalist community that feel this way are mostly unfamiliar the actual research. Drawing conclusions with little evidence seems to be a very common rationalist pitfall.

          I recommend going to colloquiums at your local university and seeing how contentious the debate is, where models work, where models don’t work, what the edge of the science actually is. Talk to actual climate scientists about what they do day to day,etc. I’m not going to convince you via the internet, but if you want to have a strong opinion on climate science, please learn some!

          If you are near a good research university or (even better) a student at one you can find an actual expert and sit down and talk with them.

          • ryan says:

            I would wonder what specific substantive idea(s) you would want to convince me of sans the internet problem. If it’s that climate modelers want their models to successfully model the climate I need no convincing.

          • Professor Frink says:

            The first thing I would want to convince you of is simply that climate models don’t fit any conceivable outcome (which was your claim).

          • ryan says:

            @Prof F

            Ah, I see. That I am convinced of. I think I phrased things poorly and left the impression otherwise.

            What I am confused by is how the fact that anything and everything about climate, or the absence of such, can be attributed by scientific media to climate change, seems to not bother people as much as it bothers me. Ice caps melting, climate change, not melting, doesn’t matter. Lots of hurricanes this year, climate change, not many hurricanes this year, doesn’t matter. Hot winter, climate change, really nasty winter, climate change, run of the mill winter, doesn’t matter.

            I suppose the issue is that people assume level 4 of the pyramid is just up to its usual ass hattery and infer nothing about the lower levels? If so I guess that’s fair. But I am still stuck on thinking that it should at least lower people’s confidence in the “indisputably proven scientific fact” proposition.

          • Professor Frink says:

            Generally it’s not the scientists or even the media making these claims. i.e. it’s hot out, and some guy on the street is like “damn global warming.”

            With more hurricanes, you might have some scientist saying “could global warming be responsible for different storm patterns? Here is some preliminary research” and then you might get a decade long flurry of papers while people figure it out. In the meantime, a conservative site will run one paper with “hurricanes definitely not caused by climate change” and a liberal site will run another with “hurricanes definitely caused by climate change.”

            A lot of people do what I think of as “coming at crackpot from the other direction” sometimes.
            1. Climate change is a fact
            2. I believe in climate change
            3. therefore what I believe I can attribute to climate change is a fact.
            But you can always go to the scientific literature and you can always drive to a university and simply ask someone what the consensus is.

            I’m frustrated because in the EA communities I move around in, people think AI-risk is obviously a top priority, climate change is obviously made up stupid science for stupid people, and they have no real position at all on (say) virology research/global pandemics.

            So I’m often feeling like I’m smashing my head into a wall when I say “I’m not a climate science, but I did similar applied math work. This stuff isn’t crazy at all. The alarming scenarios are unlikely, but they aren’t any more unlikely than Bostrom’s AI estimates.”

          • Scott Alexander says:

            I just want to make sure you notice that Ryan is claiming the rationalist community is credulous for believing climate science, and you seem to be using this as evidence that the rationalist community doesn’t believe in climate science.

            As always, the LW survey shows that the average rationalist is 82% certain in their belief in anthropogenic global warming; there’s no exact question about AI risk, but I will (seriously, this is a literal offer) bet you money that if we put such a question on there next year it will be far lower.

            [This has been your weekly “please stop accusing the whole rationalist community of stuff because of some vague feeling that you heard something once” announcement. Join us next week as we take on Dylan Matthews!]

          • kerani says:

            @ Professor Frink

            “I’m not a climate science, but I did similar applied math work. This stuff isn’t crazy at all. The alarming scenarios are unlikely, but they aren’t any more unlikely than Bostrom’s AI estimates.”

            “…and are a lot less likely than a(nother) global pandemic that kills 20% (+) of the species, which you guys are not discussing AT ALL”?

            (Part of me wants to quibble at the ‘global’ modifier for ‘pandemic’ – as being a bit of lily-gilding – but heck, even dry oceans are pretty wet, and quiet H-bombs rather noisy.)

          • Professor Frink says:

            @Scott I think in my substantive post I said “the EA communities I move around in,” to try to qualify my statement. I don’t know what more qualification you would want on that statement?

            I just recently attended EA Global, and there was a huge focus on AI risk, including an AI risk panel, a key note talk by Bostrom, and parallel talks by MIRI. Getting people interested in talking about pandemics or global warming was damn near impossible.

          • Adam says:

            From the outside, it looks an awful lot like AI risk is the cause celebre of a small socialite sector of the rationalist community focused in a few American cities that are hotbeds of VC cash looking for fires to burn in, but not something the broader entire Internet of people interested in rationality necessarily cares too much about.

          • ryan says:

            @Professor F

            Do a google search for “hurricane sandy global warming.” That’s the sort of thing I was talking about. It’s not just man on the street corner. Note there are quite a few professors quoted in those articles. This is a Cause and its supporters are legion. Their shifting between loyalty and disloyalty to the concept that climate is not the same as weather follows a pattern that should not earn them popularity with rationalists.

            They have confidence in propositions akin to the sort one should have for those supported by empirical or rigorous experimental evidence. Confidence should not be that high when evidence is computational models with errors and difficulties that the friendly climate scientist at your local university is completely straightforward about.

            And on top of that they banter about global warming deniers, which is just an epithet for anyone who does not share their high level of confidence. It’s on the same level as a libertarian calling someone a statist. I found it disappointing to see the penultimate rationalist Yvain/SA using the term so casually.


            I remember reading 50 or so Less Wrong posts from Yudkowsky and then coming on one in which passively says sure, global warming checks out. It was very surprising because to me it contradicted his whole philosophy.

            From a certain angle the rationalist community looks like Dark Lord Eliezer and his army of minions. But it is not. So egg on my face there.

          • brad says:

            I read a blog post by a pretty staunch libertarian once that acknowledged that if a planet killing comet were 10 or 25 years out, and the only way to deflect it was a coordinated planetary scale effort, the your typical libertarian solution wouldn’t work. That would be a time for some statism.

            So, I’d say that libertarians really don’t want to see any planet killing asteroids on the horizon. Any suggestion that there is one is always going to be met with a great deal of suspicion and distrust.

            On the flip side anyone that’s basically frustrated by the quasi-anarchic global order and whose dearest wish is for some serious international cooperation on something — anything — is going to be quick to see asteroids around the corner.

            The interesting reaction is from traditional conservatives. Given the thrive / survive instincts, you’d think a planet wide disaster would be right up their alley. It could plausibly call for a strong leader, conformity to community rules, could inspire religious millennialism, etc, etc. Maybe the issue is that you can’t fight it with BRUTE STRENGTH.

            At the very least you’d expect the survivalists to be enthusiastic. While gold and ammo might not be useful for fighting climate change, you’d think they’d at least weave it into one of their favorite fantasies about TEOFTWAWNI and the inevitable looters they are so eager to get to shoot.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Professor, I was referring to the following exchange:

            RYAN: “It’s all just baffling. How can the rationalist community not notice that climate change theory is equally good at explaining any outcome?”

            PF: “I’m assuming the members of the rationalist community that feel this way are mostly unfamiliar the actual research. Drawing conclusions with little evidence seems to be a very common rationalist pitfall. “

        • Professor Frink says:

          Alright, googling hurricane sandy global warming and pulling professional/sciency quotes:

          “Katharine Hayhoe, a climate researcher at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, said manmade climate change likely contributed to the storm surge at The Battery in Lower Manhattan. She said the manmade contribution to the storm surge may have been a small amount.”

          “A 2012 report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that sea level rise has likely increased extreme coastal high water events around the world.”

          “Some, though not all, scientists think the more frequent blocking events may be related to the loss of Arctic sea ice, which is one of the most visible consequences of manmade global warming.”

          “Some researchers who warn that climate change is already being felt in extreme weather events, such as Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., are not yet convinced of the Arctic connection.”

          “James Overland, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who recently published a study on how Arctic sea ice loss is altering the weather in the Far North, said it’s not clear whether Hurricane Sandy was just a freak event or a sign of things to come.”

          “Martin Hoerling, a researcher at the Earth Systems Research Laboratory, also in Boulder, is a proponent of this view. “Great events, like this meteorological one, can happen with little cause(s). Individually, neither the tropical storm nor the extratropical storm that embraced it, were unusual,” he said via email. “What makes this a rare, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime event, is the fortuity of their timely (“untimely” as far as most are concerned who sit in harms way) intersection.” Randall M. Dole, who is a colleague of Hoerling’s at ESRL, noted that the blocking pattern that helped steer Sandy was “highly transient,” which suggests to him that it was just “random bad luck” that it coincided with a hurricane along the East Coast.”

          “Jennifer Francis,Rutgers:
          I think the case [that man contributed to the storm] has strengthened. I’ve done a bit more research into the linkage with the very warm Arctic following the record 2012 ice loss, and it appears that the heat released from the Arctic Ocean in the fall created a substantial positive anomaly in the upper-level atmospheric heights in the North Atlantic. This likely contributed to the strong ridge and blocking high that existed when Sandy came along, and that ultimately not only steered Sandy westward but also set up the strong pressure gradient between Sandy and the blocking high that caused the enormous expanse of tropical-storm-force winds from Delaware to Nova Scotia.”

          This isn’t painting the overconfident picture you claim it would. And these were all from article with headlines like “climate change contributed to Sandy”

          • ryan says:

            The closer you get to level 1 of the pyramid the better things get rationally and scientifically. “The Cause” has only a few acolytes in level 1, and increasing followers as you progress to level 5. Calling opponents global warming denialists is rare at level 1, and becomes increasingly more common as you move up to 5.

            For some context: Last week SA had a post where he hinted that Paul Krugman had been taken in by Moldbug’s theory that belief in nonsense was an unforgeable demonstration of loyalty. A dismissive attitude to “global warming deniers” is just another badge of loyalty. And it really disappoints me to see someone I respect like SA wear it.

          • Professor Frink says:

            So let me recap this discussion, from my perspective. You said that climate models fit any outcome, I said if you actually talked to climate scientists you’d find this was wrong.

            You then said media trumpeted global warming when extreme weather happens but didn’t trumpet “not global warming” when extreme weather events fail to happen.

            I asserted this wasn’t SCIENTISTS saying these things, it was just the typical sensationalism of modern journalism. You told me if I did a google search I could find actual scientists making these claims.

            I did that google search and instead found scientists hedging their bets, making no particularly strong claims. So you moved the goal posts again, and now I don’t even know what you are claiming anymore. Your point about the actual science seems to have vanished completely.

            Elsewhere in this comment section you have made comments that imply some ignorance about what climate modelers are actually doing (you suggest they should measure and calculate enthalpies or heat instead of temperature,etc, as if they do not. Of course they do!) I stand by my comment that you should to talk to actual climate modelers about this all works.

          • ryan says:

            I thought I had agreed already to the bad journalism point:

            “I suppose the issue is that people assume level 4 of the pyramid is just up to its usual ass hattery and infer nothing about the lower levels? If so I guess that’s fair. But I am still stuck on thinking that it should at least lower people’s confidence in the “indisputably proven scientific fact” proposition.”

            If I talked to a climate modeler about how heat content of the O/A system is reckoned circa 1890-1910, what do you think they would say?

          • Professor Frink says:

            They would say that tree rings and other proxies for measuring devices give you decent methods for extrapolating local conditions for humidity, temperature, soil conditions,etc. I don’t know what the best proxy for 1890-1910 is but tree rings certainly go back far enough. There might be something better for more recent dates.

    • Anonymous says:

      Isn’t that the whole foundation of the standard model and high energy physics, to try to fund the fundamentals particles that explain the mechanism behind physical phenomena?

      Well, the base level of any theory, including the standard model of particle physics, is descriptive rather than explanatory. For example people often ask things like “how do fundamental particles turn into each other?” This question has no answer currently. We have math that accurately describes this, but no underlying “mechanism.” Lacking a mechanism for transmutation of fundamental particles is not necessarily a failing of the standard model. First, it’s not obvious that there has to be a mechanism; and second, if we discovered a mechanism people would just ask similar “how” questions about the new, deeper theory. So, at least in fundamental physics, we typically content ourselves with descriptions rather than requiring mechanisms.

  15. C says:

    The head of the FDA who’s in charge of looking over the Food Pyramid to make sure it’s accurate.

    The “food pyramid” isn’t published by the FDA, it’s published by the USDA. It’s never been “accurate,” unless accurate means “recommends large servings of things grown domestically.”

  16. Praxeologue says:

    I am new to this site and have enjoyed the posts I have read so far. Thank you.
    Couple of thoughts may be of interest.
    Tim Ferriss recently interviewed insufferably arrogant Poliquin, a strength guru, who made many references to most modern discoveries in strength training had early advocates (contrarians?) in late 1800s. Reminds me at it isnt just coming up with a good idea but being a good marketer and/ or fortuitous time and place. Darwin gets credit for evolution but wasnt the first with the idea comes to mind.
    Secondly, What if you are very persuaded by a crackpot theory, say, Austrian economics, which seems to have been the only school of thought to correctly anticipate and explain the financial crisis but remains outside a relatively small number of successful money mangers, IT types and libertarians ridiculed despite any obvious logical refutations (link any if there are obvious candidates). Is one delusional or do we just need to wait a while longer as we did to move from monarchy to democracy until it becomes mainstream and some latecomer with better marketing gets the kudos?

    • Trevor says:
      Here is a good link for why Austrian business cycle theory and Austrian economics more generally is ridiculed or ignored by the mainstream. I think you are maybe relying too much on your intuitions about these matters and should look into the mainstream models more to see if they can actually explain these last 10 years as I am convinced they can. The big issue I have with mainstream economists is that they do not seem to actually believe their own models and start using intuitions and discredited theories at the slightest provocation with disastrous results for the state of the economy and the economics profession.

    • Adam says:

      Just to piggyback off what Caplan is saying here, there isn’t really much in the way of disagreement between Austrians and mainstream economists about this. Downwardly rigid wages are a known and acknowledged phenomenon, and that’s true of prices generally, not just wages. The difference is largely in the explanation. The Austrian ‘government and unions are the root of all evil’ explanation is way too simplistic. There are a huge number of reasons that prices are downwardly rigid, but chief among them is the simple fact that many are literally fixed over an intermediate term by perfectly voluntary forward purchase agreements, and to the extent that a lot of major expense categories for individuals and businesses alike are fixed (plant depreciation, your mortgage, etc.) over a pretty long span of time, that intermediate term can be long enough to hamper recession recovery for a while. There are also a huge variety of practical reasons for employers to prefer layoffs over keeping their entire workforce but cutting everyone’s salary (i.e. maintaining the morale of whoever still works for you).

      Anyway, the only people who called this exact recession were not economists at all, whether Austrian or otherwise. They were a few lone wolfs who understood the secondary market for debt-backed collateral obligation very, very well, well enough to know there was serious mispricing and wishful thinking going on. The two most obvious people to call it were John Paulson and Nassim Taleb and they were both fund managers, not economists. They called it by understanding fat-tailed probability distributions and the mismatch between model and reality in practical risk management, not by any grand theory of how to run a macroeconomy.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I started following Austrain economists because I felt the same way. Then I realized that they have been predicting high inflation for a while now and learned to ignore them. One thing that’s nice about Austrians is that they are wrong in an obvious way. They don’t give us specific dates but after 5 years of warnings on hyperinflation and how the next recession is just around the corner, its hard to take them seriously.

  17. John Sidles says:

    Especially in the biomedical sciences, where so many clinical outcomes are the result of processes whose cellular and molecular details are unknown and even unobservable (with present technologies at least), a celebrated passage from Press et al. Numerical Recipes applies

    That is the curse of statistics, that it can never prove things, only disprove them! At best, you can substantiate a hypothesis by ruling out, statistically, a whole long list of competing hypotheses, every one that has ever been proposed. After a while your adversaries and competitors will give up trying to think of alternative hypotheses, or else they will grow old and die, and then your hypothesis will become accepted. Sounds crazy, we know, but that’s how science works!

    (emphasis as in the original)

    Conclusion  Effective contrarianism requires extraordinary patience, and some good luck too.

  18. Vilgot Huhn says:

    When I read stuff I tend to remember Tetlocks foxes and hedgehogs. If it feels like someone has a overly confident tone about a clear master narrative about one (or few) Big Ideas that explains it all, then I assume there’s probably more to the story. “Truth resists simplicity” like John Green tends to repeat. I think there’s a lot to salvage from contrarians who happen to go too far if you just remember they’re (probably) going too far.

    I’m not all aboard this “correct contrarian cluster” idea, I tend to just go with consensus because I’m very aware that people tend to be overconfident and that I have that tendency too. I’m not an expert in anything and I think the crowds are wise more often than many wannabe-intellectuals like me want to admit. But maybe it’s less important that every individual is as rational as possible, than the aggregate or the whole process yeilding progress. Sort of like how evolution requires variation.

  19. Anonymous says:

    It’s interesting that you predict that “correct contrarians” will usually extend their correct-at-the-core theory until it becomes incorrect. Wouldn’t that undermine the claim you’ve made elsewhere that they’re correct contrarians because they have more of some general factor of rationality?

  20. John Hall says:

    The Wikipedia page on AI mentions Hawking and Gates, but these guys feel like newcomers to the field. The same as any academic. Science fiction has been thinking about these issues for way longer. James Cameron or the Wachowskis for instance. Or, really Issac Asimov’s three laws of robotics get to the heart of AI risk before any of them.

    • it seems like any famous person who parrots the dangers of AI suddenly becomes an ‘expert’..same for climate change

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t think Asimov’s three laws of robotics give him credit for predicting AI risk any more than his story where technology run amok has made the earth uninhabitable gives him credit for predicting global warming. You get credit when you actually make the claim and give a plausible mechanism, not before.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        None of Asimov’s stories deal with AI risk. He deals with robots and Oracle AI (Multivac, The Machines) but his contribution towards AI risk is pointing out if they are programed to help people/humanity, they will take the power (openly or not) they need in order to do that (The Evitable Conflict is an example of this).

        The closest I can think of hostile AI is a dangerous robot (Little Lost Robot) and Multivac (All the Troubles in the World), but the former is insane while the latter is suicidal.

        • Alejandro says:

          There is also “. . . That Thou Art Mindful of Him”, where robots programmed to obey preferently the most educated and rational humans (and disregard superficial physical characteristics in their definition of “human”) decide that themselves are the “humans” most worthy of obedience. The story does not progress beyond this realization but the implication is that the robots will become hostile to (biological) humans and take power.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Given the first law overrides all others, the robots ruling humanity is implicit in all smart enough versions of his robots.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Istr a short version of Williamson’s “With Folded Hands” taking place within a home which could make and use extended appendages as needed to protect the human occupants, to a nightmarish degree. The software for that building (which may have been part of a larger system) might be closer to AI than to individual robots.

          In that short story, the built-in simulated
          barn grabbed the farmer away from recreationally milking his cow, lest he lick a drop of real milk which might carry disease.

          Individual robots made for a more interesting novella — see

          • No, the bit about the farmer not being allowed to milk his cow is from Sladek’s “The Happy Breed”, though Williamson’s “With Folded Hands” is also about a computerized tyranny of safety.

      • Pku says:

        He didn’t really make the claim (his philosophy was that “the solution to dangerous knowledge is more knowledge, not ignorance”, and that properly engineered AI would be to the benefit of humanity), But I’d argue that he did give an example of mechanism in The Evitable Conflict.
        (Summary if you haven’t read it: It was about post-singularity machines who run the world. The interesting part was that they managed to use subtle social manipulation to get anyone who was in a position to threaten them and disapproved of AI running the world fired (because that would limit their ability to help humanity). The protagonist figures this out in the end, but he also figures out that there’s no way to stop them, because they’re far more intelligent than humanity.)

  21. Douglas Knight says:

    Cochran is not a professor of Anthropology at Utah, just as Deutsch is not a professor of Physics at Oxford. Except that Deutsch actually lives in Oxford, whereas Cochran lives in New Mexico.

    • At least according to Wikipedia, Cochran is an adjunct professor of anthropology at Utah.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        And according to Wikipedia, Deutsch is a professor of physics at Oxford. Douglas is playing some sort of complicated game here.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        You are a professor. Do you consider people with “adjunct” or “visiting” in their title to be real professors? People who are not paid and have no responsibilities, neither to teach classes nor to advise grad students?

        (Deutsch might have a responsibility to advise postdocs. Cochran, who lives 600 miles away from his school, seems to have no responsibilities at all.)

        • Urstoff says:

          Does any of this matter? Disputing whether a person is a “real” professor or not just seems like a not-so-subtle ad hominem.

          • brad says:

            Is ad hominem a fallacy if you are responding to an appeal to authority by questioning the basis of the appeal?

          • HeelBearCub says:


            Wouldn’t both the statements “professor in X field at Y prestigious institution” and “not actually a member of that particular cohort” simply fall into the categories of adjusting priors?

          • Urstoff says:

            No, but it’s not entirely clear it’s an appeal to authority. I guess the argument structure may be:

            1. Person X has credential Y
            2. Thus, Person X has expertise Z
            3. Thus, Person X is prima facie not likely to be a crackpot concerning Z

            Maybe that’s the argument here and what people are arguing about is what type of credential allows one to conclude 2 from 1. That seems to me to be one of those pointless meta-arguments, at least from the standpoint of a non-expert assigning credence to the claims of Person X. After all, if a lay person can determine that the person is a crackpot, then there’s no need to look at the person’s credentials. If the lay person can’t tell that they are a crackpot rather than just someone with non-mainstream views, the credentials aren’t going to tell you very much. You know, basically Meno’s paradox wrt crackpots.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The Deutsch example was explicitly an appeal to authority, and thus it is important to adjudicate it as such. Scott could just replace it with “Fellow of the Royal Society” and I regret not suggesting that in my comment on the other post. Deutsch really is a respected physicist, but his formal position really is weird. Maybe there is a connection between his stridency and his refusal to conform (both of which are a lot older than his FRS).

            With Cochran, Scott is not making an explicit appeal to authority. His explicit meaning is about switching fields and being an outsider. The explicit meaning would hardly change if he replaced it with “somehow ended up studying anthropology.” But if he were to write such a sentence, it would make more sense to put in “genetics” or “evolution,” which is the common theme between his work with Harpending and Ewald.

  22. LTP says:

    So, one question I have is do these extreme but not totally insane contrarians actually *deserve* to be remembered more positively or not? You seem to be on their side, Scott, but I’m not so sure they deserve it. If one is just extremely contrarian dispositionally, couldn’t it be said that these people just got lucky the one or two times they’re right? I wouldn’t say they parrot the ideas of established researches (not always, anyway), but it also seems wrong to me to laud these people as heroes when they’re often mostly wrong, and it take established researches sifting the wheat from the chaff to make some of the contrarian’s ideas useful.

  23. Douglas Knight says:

    Harris does not say that divorce has no effect. The Nurture Assumption specifically says that it does have negative effects.

    She says the existing literature was largely nonsense, because it failed to control for genetics. And this was an easy inference, because she cited papers which did control for genetics. The new literature which finds that the effect of divorce is much smaller is 100% vindication of her.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t have Nurture Assumption with me, can you quote the passage?

      I seem to remember her hand-wringing about whether we could be sure child abuse actually had effects or not, let alone divorce.

      Divorce having effects seems contrary to her key assumptions and to the “approximately 0% shared environment” studies she relies on.

      I also think the studies have shown that controlling for genetics actually doesn’t attenuate the problems with divorce very much at all.

      • “Divorce having effects seems contrary to her key assumptions”

        I don’t think so. Her view was that the important environmental effect on personality was the peer group not the family. But things happening to the family, such as divorce, can effect what peers a child grows up associating with.

        Like you, I don’t have the book at hand, so am going on memory.

        • Tibor says:

          If I remember well, she mentioned that the main effect of a divorce on the child was a worse socioeconomic situation of the family – which also could result into moving into a neighborhood with more children with a lower socioeconomic status and therefore generally a “worse” peer group in terms of later success in life. Moving also means having to find a new peer group, even if the neighborhood is as “good” as the old one, one has to start all over. And if the child takes turns at staying with one parent and then the other (and the parents do not live very close to each other), this can also negatively impact the peer group mechanics (as the child swings back and forth from one peer group to another and is not rooted anywhere).

          She also admits that in some extreme cases, such as parents actually abusing the child, there are undeniably effects of bad parenting that are long lasting and severe, but that as long as you ignore these 5 or so percent (probably even less) of extreme cases, parenting style matters very little. Some divorces can be very toxic with parents using the child against each other, telling it lies about the other parent (hoping that the child stops liking him/her) and so on. I don’t know if this counts as “extreme cases” in Hariss’ book, but it could. And I would say that setting these kinds of divorces aside, the case that the separating of parents has a direct (i.e. not just from worse economic situation, constant moving and so on) effect on the child is much weaker (although I am not trying to say that it is entirely unreasonable).

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I think that the choice of the word “admit” is quite misleading. As Scott notes, two comments above, Harris says that while she expects abuse to cause lasting damage, there is no evidence that controls for the genetic confound. In particular, the well-known phenomenon that abused children abuse their own children is surely in part due to genetic similarity to their parents. What proportion is nature and what nurture is an empirical question.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Then why are clinical psychologists like Judith Wallerstein so certain that parental divorce is bad for children? Because, as social psychologist David G. Myers has pointed out, it is bad for them—only it’s not bad for the reasons Wallerstein gave or in the ways she assumed.

        On the other hand, she ends with the prediction:

        that parental divorce has no lasting effects on the way children behave when they’re not at home, and no lasting effects on their personalities.

        But this is a narrow prediction. It is a prediction about lasting personality, not about college attendance or income. I do not think that this has been studied. How children behave when they are not at home is a topic more likely to have been addressed.

        Also, the prediction was predicated on blind judges, which are pretty rare.

        Controlling for genetics doesn’t attenuate the problems with divorce? Is this at all plausible? For example, you cite Burt, who claims that the “child and adolescent psychopathology” that are blamed on divorce are 50% genetic and 20% shared environment. Since divorcing is, itself, about 50% genetic I estimate that the two components should be about the same size.

      • There are 14 references to Divorce in the index. The longest is for a six page section in chapter 13 (Dysfunctional Families and Problem Kids) on Divorce. This section covers two different topics: whether divorce is inheritable, and the general consequences for the children.

        Halfway through the section (pp 308), I found a reference to “a twin study on divorce”, which resolves to McGue and Lykken 1992 [“Genetic influence on risk of Divorce” Psychological Science]. Harris’s summary:

        about half of the variation in the risk of divorce could be attributed to genetic influences—to genes shared with twins or parents. The other half was due to environmental causes but none of the variation could be blamed on the home the twins grew up in. Any similarities in their marital histories could be fully accounted for by the genes they share. Their shared experiences—experienced at the same age, since they were twins—of parental harmony or conflict, of parental togetherness or apartness, had no detectable effect.

        Heredity, not their experiences in their childhood home, is what makes the children of divorce more likely to fail in their own marriages. … There is no divorce gene. Instead there is an assortment of personality characteristics, each roughhewn by a complex of genes and shaped and sanded by the environment, that together increase the chances that a person will marry unhappily.

        Later, when she talks about the effects on children, the citations are about divorce being bad, but not about studies showing heritability. The section ends with this line:

        What researchers will find [if unbiased observers study children of divorce outside the home] is that parental divorce has no lasting effects on the way children behave when they’re not at home, and no lasting effects on their personalities.

  24. Sarah says:

    My view on crackpottery is as follows:

    There is no purely sociological way to distinguish a correct contrarian from a crackpot.

    You can make some guesses on priors that people who oppose “scientific consensus” are wrong, and then you can make counter-arguments that in this particular case the scientific consensus is biased, and go back and forth like that — but ultimately the only way to find out is to “walk the ground” yourself, look at the evidence, and decide for yourself who seems to have the better case. There is no purely social heuristic that you can trust in lieu of checking the facts yourself.

    The corollary is that there is no such thing as a “crackpot” vs. a “virtuous contrarian”, in a purely social or behavioral sense. There are people who believe weird things, and they can be right or wrong. And behaving like the TimeCube Guy is pretty good evidence that they’re wrong. But there’s no independent quality of “crackpottishness”, besides just being wrong, that taints Mr. TimeCube and makes him a bad person. (Oh, he might well be mentally ill. That also doesn’t make him a bad person.)

    For a person who has a scientific point of view, pseudoscience is disturbing and almost offensive. If the most important thing in the world is to *get the ideas right*, then someone passionately stating falsehoods is almost sacrilegious. No pro-science person wants to be Soft On Pseudoscience.

    The disturbing truth, however, is that “respectability” will not protect you from believing false things. Respectability is ill-defined, it is circular. Respectability means “following the expert consensus” but who, exactly, is the consensus? You could not write a formal algorithm for “how to be respectable” or “how to be mainstream” that wouldn’t output some stuff that offends common sense. So the only thing to do is to give up on trying to be “mainstream” or trying to be “humble”, and just try to be correct.

    It took me years, and enormous amounts of persuasion from friends, and a quasi-religious experience, to convince me of this, and now it’s a pretty core part of my belief system. It doesn’t actually leave me with especially extreme or contrarian views. It does make me have an attitude of benign “let’s wait and see if this pans out”, for breathless reports of discoveries both “mainstream” and “contrarian.”

    • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

      It appears to me that some correct contrarians do talk differently – though this same heuristic might(?) have misled me in the Taubes case (I have not investigated enough to be sure). E.g. Julian Barbour and Scott Sumner are two people who “talk like correct contrarians” in two very different fields.

      • Sarah says:

        Really incoherent writers (like TimeCube Guy) are more likely to be wrong than reasonable-sounding writers (like Scott Sumner) but by the time you’re invested in reading a lot of someone’s writing, I think you should be evaluating object-level claims, not just writing style.

        • Quixote says:

          I vey much agree with this. If there is one characteristic flaw I would diagnose among the LW set, it would be a tendency to “go meta” needlessly (and some times perhaps to avoid the work of the object level).
          Most claims stand or fall based on object level evaluation.

      • Professor Frink says:

        Barbour is “correctish.” He has ideas that aren’t obviously wrong and might be profound but he hasn’t managed to actually make interesting physics models with them. He seems stuck at the “not even wrong” stage, which makes me worry that his ideas aren’t as productive as they might seem.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          I would have thought the interesting physics is the Wheeler De Witt equation, and the rest is showing that its apparent denial of time can be taken at face value.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      The disturbing truth, however, is that “respectability” will not protect you from believing false things. Respectability is ill-defined, it is circular. Respectability means “following the expert consensus” but who, exactly, is the consensus? You could not write a formal algorithm for “how to be respectable” or “how to be mainstream” that wouldn’t output some stuff that offends common sense.

      I don’t think that’s true. You can have a respectability algorithm that isn’t circular in a similar way to how Google determines the relevance of websites. You just give every person an initial default value for respectability and then if A respects B, this increases B’s respectability score based on how respectable A is.

      • Sarah says:

        This is a good point and I feel silly for missing it. It is possible, as you said, to compute a non-circular definition of “consensus.”

        What’s not obvious is that this would give results that match the *intuition* that there is one, unified, “community of experts” or “Establishment”. There could be several communities, each insisting that they are the Establishment, with each community circularly self-reinforcing by having members cite and praise each other. In fact, when I make an effort to look outside my filter bubble, it seems that the world is quite multipolar, and there are multiple groups that each consider themselves the Center of the World and the Final Arbiter of Excellence.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I think I agree with your main idea that there isn’t really an obvious difference between respectable contrarian and crackpot but I do think think there are some social heuristics that can work. For one, if some group gives many contradictory answers when someone challenges their ideas, this can set off alarm bells. Of course, this is the kind of thing that made me skeptical about global warming(there is a pause! there’s no pause!) and of course being a global warming “denier” makes someone a crackpot so your mileage may vary. At least there is a way to find out on this issue, even if it takes a few years.

  25. Ilya Shpitser says:

    I don’t understand all this complaining, re: Russell vs Yudkowsky, Scott. If Yudkowsky wanted to be taken seriously he would do what Russell did — publish a ton of influential work, have a lot of influential students, etc. There is no royal road to recognition: it’s a hugely competitive market, and people are wary of tricks.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m not complaining, I’m predicting.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        Ok, but do you think this is “working as intended?”

        • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

          I’m not sure what you mean by that, but I feel like things are currently mostly on track. If journalists mostly talk about Russell or Bostrom or FLI it’s at least partially because when journalists email me I reply back saying that I don’t do interviews and pointing them at FLI or FHI or Russell.

    • he published the Harry Potter rationality series, among other work

    • He published a huge book, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, which has over 4000 reviews on good reads. Pretty impressive

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        I mean this in the nicest possible way, but HPMOR is a liability in this game, not an asset.

        • Anon says:

          You’re taking an obvious troll post seriously…

          • Deiseach says:

            Somebody thinking HPMOR is the greatest thing since sliced bread is not obviously a troll post, since there are fans genuinely at this level of “It’s amazing” out there.

          • Anon says:


            None of them would use the argument “it has over 4000 reviews on goodreads”. Twilight has probably 10 times as much.

            I suggest both you and Ilya take some time to learn how to recognize obvious trolls in the future. People will take you less seriously if you are constantly falling for them.

          • Deiseach says:

            Okay, Anon, instruct me.

            How shall I discern the spoor of the Troll? Is it that they quote what Amazon reviews the work has? That it is Number One on the New York Times Bestsellers List? That it has fifty-nine likes* on AO3?

            I’m glad you know exactly how many reviews on Goodreads “Twilight” got. I couldn’t even bother my arse to read the book, or watch any of the movies, much less track how popular on a particular book recommendation site it was.

            Bravo, little Anon! You go with your sterling efforts to keep up with every pop culture reference and how many stars it gets from which site! I applaud your industry!

            (And if that sounds mean-spirited, it’s because I wear my badge with pride of having been part of a Tolkien-and-other topics site that got some notice from Fandomwank back in the Livejournal days, when somebody there decided to butt into the middle of a conversation because they thought we were being wanky about religion and it very nearly turned into a minor flamewar but petered out before any real fun could be had, so don’t talk to me about trolls, sonny).

            * Ha! Gotcha! People don’t leave “likes” on AO3, they leave “kudos”!

          • Anon says:


            You come across as very upset after being given some well-meaning advice. I suggest you stop appearing so emotionally invested in the future, trolls love such responses.

            “I’m glad you know exactly how many reviews on Goodreads “Twilight” got.”

            Nah, it was a guess from how popular goodreads is. I googled it now and Twilight actually has 20 times as many reviews.

          • Deiseach says:

            Anon, by your own metrics, you’re a troll.

            Upset? No, this isn’t me being upset (that involves a lot more swearing). This is me smacking you on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper 🙂

          • Nita says:

            @ Anon

            Deiseach doesn’t seem all that upset, it’s just how she talks.

            And as for well-meaning advice, you should remember to re-calibrate your trolldar when you enter the LW-o-Sphere.

            grey enlightenment have written this:

            Whether it’s mathematicians, theoretical physicists, coders, writers, quants, economists, or bibliophiles, the viral image above is more evidence that in America, especially, intellectualism is more important than ever, with MIT and Caltech the ‘meccas’. Reddit users know that the booksish, socially awkward, and introverted will rule the world, if they haven’t already.

            …so I’m not at all convinced they were trolling here.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Alternative explanation: It was a silly, lighthearted joke and you guys are making a fuss over nothing.

          • Anon says:


            “Anon, by your own metrics, you’re a troll.”

            Nope, sorry. You still need more training to recognize trolls.

            “Upset? No, this isn’t me being upset (that involves a lot more swearing). This is me smacking you on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper ”

            That may be what you intended. Unfortunately, everyone else will read it as you having become very emotionally distraught over my comment. You also come across as very immature if you believe you are giving someone “a smacking” during a normal conversation.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Anon: I am, if not “everyone else”, at least someone else, and that should be sufficient to disprove your claim. I don’t see Deiseach as being either emotionally distraught or immature, and I doubt anyone else does either. I do find you to be frustrating, annoying, and profoundly ignorant.

            First, ignorant of the basic reality of Poe’s Law, which makes trollishness fundamentally ambiguous in cases like this and never as obvious as you’d like it to be.

            Second, ignorant of the obvious consequences of Poe’s Law, one of which is a general tolerance among enlightened communities for anyone who does mistake a troll for a sincere extremist or vice versa.

            Third, ignorant of the way your condescendingly paternalistic lecture makes you look – unless this is another case of Poe’s Law in action and you really are a knowing troll.

            You contribute nothing of value to the discussion here. Come back when you have something actually interesting to say, and at least a recognizable pseudonym to say it under.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Anon, no, Twilight does not have 10-20x as many Goodreads reviews as HPMOR. If you guessed that it did, you are wrong. If you guessed that it has 40k reviews, 10x as many as Grey claimed for HPMOR, then you are right (up to a factor of 2). But Grey was wrong: HPMOR has 4k ratings, not reviews. Both books have more than 10x as many ratings as reviews, giving a gap of 200x. (I am talking about Twilight the book. Twilight the series is only 10-20x as popular as HPMOR, having only 80k ratings. It might make sense to compare to compare the long HPMOR to the series, but people use Goodreads for books, not series. The fourth book is about 100x as popular as HPMOR. 90% of those people are not rating/reviewing the series as such.)

          • Anon says:

            @John Schilling

            You come across as quite upset as well, are you feeling alright?

            “First, ignorant of the basic reality of Poe’s Law, which makes trollishness fundamentally ambiguous in cases like this and never as obvious as you’d like it to be.”

            Your argument here can be boiled down to “I can’t recognize trolls, therefore no one can”. The fallacious reasoning should be obvious. Falling for obvious trolls is low status and calling Poe’s law every time you do will not make you seem less gullible.

            “enlightened communities”

            How euphoric did you feel when writing that?

            @Douglas Knight

            That makes the case for it being a troll post even stronger, so good point.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      If Yudkowsky wanted to be taken seriously he would do what Russell did — publish a ton of influential work, have a lot of influential students, etc. There is no royal road to recognition: it’s a hugely competitive market, and people are wary of tricks.

      Recognition by whom? EY is interested in getting smart people who think like him, into an unprofitable side of AI research. He might as well say No Tenure-seekers Need Apply.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        “(I’m very happy that brilliant AI researchers like Stuart Russell have joined the fight against AI risk. But I fully expect future textbooks to say that Russell is a great hero for discovering AI risk single-handedly, and also there were some weird guys in Berkeley who gained superficial credibility by parroting Russell’s theories, but were really just silly people writing fanfiction.)”

        This appears at the end of Scott’s essay (where the “payload” usually goes) and it does not read as having a neutral emotional valence of “mere prediction.”

        Scott is welcome to correct me if I am not being charitable here, but this reads as not being entirely happy with the allocation of “mainstream credit.” So: recognition by the mainstream.

        My point here is that it is well understood what mainstream recognition entails in this setting, there isn’t some sort of rank injustice happening here.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I probably read that eight years ago, remembered the lesson, and forgot the source. Sorry for the unintentional plagiarism. I’ll link and credit you above.

  26. Phil says:

    Meh. It seems to me that, relative to other areas of human endeavor, science is both a) much more friendly to contrarians and b) much more likely to correctly document and assign credit for new ideas. Obviously it is not perfect, but it doesn’t seem like a pressing problem to me either.

    The state of communication with the public is another matter. Science journalism is an ongoing disaster, but here the suppression of contrarians is not the problem. Just the opposite, since most science news stories seem to focus on some combination of ideas that are flashy/cool, and just total random, arbitrary nonsense. Would that the science press focused on writing about things that were both important and somewhat likely to be correct, instead of fad diets and string theory.

  27. Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

    (Also MWI, if anyone’s curious.)

    • Saal says:

      Care to expand on this? Are you saying that MWI is a “paradigm shift” in the sense that Scott is using, in that it has some support in the top levels of the pyramid but hasn’t percolated down yet?

      • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

        Yep. Though there’s an unfortunate Theology Effect here where if you consider MWI kinda obvious then you don’t specialize in “Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics”. So only a few high-profile exceptions make an issue out of it (Sean Carroll, etc.) But I’d say odds are pretty good that in another 5-20 years you’ll see the Yudkowsky spades shifting to “Well of course Yudkowsky didn’t invent MWI, everyone knew that before Yudkowsky came along” (if the Yudkowsky spades are still pursuing their blackrom Internet-stalker infatuation that far in the future).

        To try and be more precise, my claim is that the view that, say, Sean Carroll or Scott Aaronson would have of the Quantum Mechanics Sequence would look a lot more like “I guess that’s a nice try at explaining that standard widespread argument for why MWI is the knowably correct answer, if your audience can’t math” and not like “Ha ha that Yudkowsky crackpot who does he think he is”, because they’d be much closer to the upper levels of the pyramid. Carroll would agree and Aaronson would disagree with the substantive thesis of (obvious and knowable) correctness of MWI, but both of them would see it as a standard, known-to-the-upper-pyramid-levels argument.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          (Almost) no one is saying your arguments for MWI are completely wrong, they’re saying you’re overconfident in them.

          You seem to be trying to go to this weird meta-level, where you say something like “I have a high probability that it is proper to be extremely confident about this”, but I think that just collapses to normal very high confidence. Unless this is another example of you sounding more confident than you are – do you have a number?

          I feel like once experts more domain-experty than you disagree with something, you should have a hard time sticking to the kind of confidence you seem to feel. I’m moderately sympathetic to the “I understand rationality better than they do” argument – right up until the point where someone like Scott Aaronson who’s read a lot of the Sequences and read your rationality arguments and clearly understands rationality just fine is still way less confident than you are.

          I’m not saying you mightn’t be righter than Scott Aaronson, I’m saying you shouldn’t be very confident that you are, under the circumstances.

          • Saal says:

            On the other hand, I have seen a lot of:

            1. EY is overconfident on MWI
            2. Overconfidence when you lack domain-specific knowledge is crackpottery
            3. EY is a crackpot

            Which isn’t quite saying his arguments have no merit, but it’s close enough that I can understand him feeling a little beleaguered and going “No, really, this is a thing some QM physicists believe, I just happen to feel really strongly those guys are right. Please don’t call me a crackpot, it’s mean and not very productive.”

          • LCL says:

            I’d speculate that a lot of the problem is that the subject is too technical/mathy for most the audience to form a reasoned opinion about. It certainly is for me.

            So one process of opinion formation – would it be correct to call this object-level? – is to examine the evidence for MWI in technical detail, including the involved math, and the arguments about it written by and for specialists in the area, then draw your own conclusions.

            The audience can’t do that, so they substitute another process of opinion formation (meta-level?). Which is to try to judge the relative credibility of the experts on either side.

            Possibly EY is drawing very strong evidence from the first process, enough to overwhelm the admittedly equivocal evidence from the second process. His audience, not having access to the first process, thinks the evidence is equivocal and so sees him as recklessly overconfident.

            ETA: I think a better criticism is that even if this is true, and even if EY turns out to have been right, it’s a poor choice as a linchpin example for the benefits of rationality.

            A correct contrarian triumph on an issue too technical and mathy for even LW’s (extraordinarily sophisticated) readers to follow at object-level might be evidence for EY’s personal brilliance. But it’s not going to be good evidence for the benefits of rationality as a broadly applicable set of principles. Hardly anyone will even be able to understand how those principles were specifically applied in the case.

            And picking a linchpin example that would point at personal brilliance rather than easily understandable application of principles gives fuel to the “cult leader” criticisms.

          • Brett says:

            The other problem that is too commonly elided in discussions of QM is that the different interpretations we’re arguing over (Copenhagen, Everettian, Bohmian) all make the same empirical predictions. The differences are not in the results – if they were, then we could potentially disprove one or more of them at some point. The difference is metaphysical – what is the underlying reality that causes these results? Yudlowsky seems to believe that many worlds is clearly obvious, the general consensus is that wavefunction collapse is more reasonable, while I myself favor a pilot-wave model. But again, the dispute here is purely metaphysical, not empirical.

          • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

            I would not say that Scott Aaronson understands *all* the arguments just fine, and in particular he has some weird blocks against Bayesianism and other forms of what he calls “bullet-biting” that I haven’t spent enough time decoding to unravel – it certainly doesn’t seem to be based on a built-up edifice-position. But it doesn’t matter, because what MWI exemplifies *if* you can track the arguments (apparently a much higher threshold than I thought) is precisely the modern equivalent of 19th-century atheism where the object level is clear cut enough to override the meta level. It’s important to understand that this is a thing exactly to avoid getting trapped in endless meta pits.

          • Deiseach says:

            (W)hat MWI exemplifies… is precisely the modern equivalent of 19th-century atheism

            That doesn’t reassure me greatly; there was a lot of cocksureness involved with 19th century atheists and atheism about primitive and advanced races, women, foreigners, etc. The way eugenics was boosted (even if Frances Galton didn’t like how it was taken up by his fanboys) is one example until That Unfortunate Event Between 1939-1945 rather dampened enthusiasm for selecting the best human specimens and weeding out the worst.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think that just collapses to normal very high confidence

            But Scott, under Many Worlds Interpretation, collapse doesn’t happen 🙂

          • Michael Vassar says:

            The whole point of Eliezer making the MWI argument was to present a position about the nature of justified confidence. It’s reasonable to disagree with the theory of justified confidence he was presenting, but not to act as if he was casually overconfident.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          But I’d say odds are pretty good that in another 5-20 years you’ll see the Yudkowsky spades shifting to “Well of course Yudkowsky didn’t invent MWI, everyone knew that before Yudkowsky came along”

          I’m fairly certain you did not invent MWI, and I think we can say that right now.

          What exactly wold you like credit for in 20 years, assuming you are right?

          • MicaiahC says:

            No, he’s saying that no one will admit being wrong about calling him overconfident, as opposed to confident.

        • ‘Yep. Though there’s an unfortunate Theology Effect here where if you consider MWI kinda obvious then you don’t specialize in “Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics”. ‘

          But if you don’t specialise in IQM, you don’t get to have a *justifiably* high confidence in MWI. You don’t get remove the section of probability space that good ratiinalists reserve for “things I haven’t thought of”. Justifiably high levels of confidence are the result of being able to answer all the objections, including the far from obvious wrinkles known to the experts.

          OTOH, you can be psychologically confident to any extent about anything.

          If MWI becomes more widespread, in that slightly superficial way, the result will be that more people bother to research the objections to MWI, and the debate will ultimately become polarized along the MWI-everything else axis, rather than the .CI-everything-else axis.

        • Phil says:

          Dude, the reason that MWI isn’t widespread is that 99.5% of the people qualified to judge the theory don’t care about it at all . The theory makes no empirical predictions, and that’s the whole point! That’s the same reason everyone is saying string theory is bad science, and they’re right! Where’s the beef man??

          • TheAncientGeek says:


            Part of Deutschs synthesis….and everything EY says on MWI comes from Deutsch .. is that people should care about what theories are telling them about the world, and not just predictions. MWI is very philosophically impactive .

            The comparison with string theory isnt really apropriate. Whether something is broken depends on what it is supposed to do. String theory is supposed to generate results and predictions because it is a theory. MWI isnt supposed to generate results and predictions, because is an interpretation.

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          I don’t think the adjective “obvious” applies to the set “interpretations.” It maybe applies to the set “theorems,” for example.

          Interpretations are just stories we tell ourselves to ease understanding, and these stories will be heterogeneous because the way brains process info is highly heterogeneous. For example, there exist geometric interpretations for why learning algorithms work (for visual people), and algebraic interpretations (for algebraic people). You can’t say “the geometric interpretation is obvious,” perhaps you can say “is obvious to me.”

          Why do people not argue about which interpretation of why linear regression works is correct?

  28. TomA says:

    The age of the internet is magnifying the presence of contrarians because of vast information availability and rapid research capability. But they have been around for a long while and essentially function as mutations within the cultural evolutionary matrix.

    Tying together two thread subtopics, one of the essential functions of the human microbiome is to facilitate rapid evolutionary adaption. Bacteria life cycle intervals are measured in minutes for some species, and they can mutate and bloom very quickly when environmental changes necessitate a rapid adaption response. Symbiosis with host determines who gets to pass on their genes to future generations.

  29. LCL says:

    They’re the first people to be jerks about it, the first people to say “HEY, YOU WITH THE PARADIGM, YOU SUCK” . . . and the same perversity of spirit that led contrarians to challenge the field where it was wrong will probably make them overshoot and challenge the field where it is right.

    This may be more of a feature than a bug. Making overstated and sensationalist claims, especially directly to the public, could force the field to engage with your ideas much more quickly than it otherwise might have. Mainstream scientists are motivated to refute what looks like dangerous pseudoscience and, in the process, may realize that some of the underlying ideas aren’t so crazy after all. The reckless overstatements and irresponsible speculation are bait for engagement with the (more sober and boring) correct contrarian beliefs from which they’ve launched.

  30. Acedia says:

    Isn’t it well understood that dietary ketosis has a mild appetite suppressant effect? I thought that was why ad libitum LC diets work – “as much as you want” when you’re heavily restricting carbs turns out to be not all that much.

  31. DenierCodex says:

    Why is Michael Behe a crackpot? Please don’t say he’s a creationist because that implies things he doesn’t believe. “Creationist” clearly implies young Earth creationism in the minds of most people. If creationist is going to be used as the standard insult for anyone that doesn’t buy into standard evolution completely. Then this should be made clear to the public at large, because it would stop being an insult since most people think a “god” of some kind had something to do with life on earth.

    • Jiro says:

      People look at his claims, the fact that he’s in the Discovery Institute, and deduce that he’s a creationist, regardless of whether he utters the words “I am a creationist”. It’s like assuming that someone who praises Hitler and talks about Jews controlling the banks and drinking Christian blood probably hates the Jews, even if you can’t find a quote of him saying “I hate the Jews”.

      If he’s not a creationist, it’s an astonishing coincidence that he just happens to make the same bad arguments that creationists, and just about nobody else, make.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Behe doesn’t merely believe that God was somehow involved in the creation of life, but that evolution cannot explain the development of certain complex biological structures and therefore this “proves” they were designed by an outside intelligence.

      How is that NOT creationism?

      No, it’s not young earth, but it it is a rejection of evolution in favor of “I can’t explain it so aliens did it”.

      • Deiseach says:

        There’s a fundamental (hah!) difference between how religious types use “creationism/creationist” and how secular types use it.

        Creationism, when used in a religious context, refers strictly to the basic Ken Ham type “six days of twenty-four hours each, six thousand year old earth” doctrine. There’s disputes within denominations and non-denominational bodies between Young Earth and Old Earth creationists, and Old Earth (that is, older than the six thousand years model) Creation can include Theistic Evolution (by the bye, I’d consider myself a Theistic Evolutionist but not a Creationist in this sense).

        Intelligent Design seems to be what you’re talking about with Michael Behe, and that’s a whole other dispute. In that vein, you may or may not be interested in Thomists versus Intelligent Design 🙂

        Secular use of “creationism” lumps everyone in under the one umbrella. Now, I’m a Creationist in that sense: I believe God created the Universe. I do not accept that binds me to accept Archbishop Ussher’s Biblical dating of Creation (the basis of the six thousand year old Earth doctrine); the literal six days of twenty-four hours each creation (we’ve mentioned St Augustine’s “On the Literal Meaning of Genesis” where this is discussed) or the like.

        So when saying that someone is a “creationist”, what do you mean? General Christian belief in a created universe? Specific belief in Young Earth? It’s along the same lines as “Atheists and free-thinkers and secular humanists have a lot in common, but not all atheists are secular humanists, not all secular humanists are atheists, not all free-thinkers are secular humanists or atheists, and we haven’t even mentioned the other groupings under the umbrella” 🙂

      • DenierCodex says:


        Again most people believe that some “outside intelligence” had a hand in the making of the universe. The only differences between Behe and them is that he’s aware of the consequences of holding that opinion and is following it to one of it’s logical ends. As would most people if they felt they had to make a choice.

        Also my understanding of Behe is that there’s much in evolution he does accept. So how many “flaws” or “holes” can someone point out in evolution before they can be labeled a “creationist”. Is it one or can the right people get a half a dozen. Can you get as many as you like as long as you end each observation with “it all happened at random and there is no God”?

  32. Troy says:

    SSC clickbait: Scientists Furious at this Psychiatrist’s One Neat Trick for Identifying Correct Contrarians

  33. Professor Frink says:

    So the thing about Taubes is that he builds a case out of reference to peer reviewed literature. So he’ll make some point about satiety mechanisms and reference literature by so-and-so, and then insulin resistance referencing somebody else,etc. Which means a lot of the individual facts that he relies on are mainstream enough that there is well done, mainstream research into these effects.

    But Taubes builds a case out of all these facts (low carb, high fat diets are the royal road to weight loss) that doesn’t actually hold up, and doesn’t happen to be true. So it’s back to that old joke, there is much that is original and much that is correct, but unfortunately no overlap between the two. Should we laud Taubes for pointing to mainstream researchers? Or should we denounce him because he used their (not very controversial) research to support his (controversial) wrong theory of diet?

    The same could be said of AI-risk. A lot of the problems MIRI brings up are core problems of machine learning (i.e. if your network is super powerful, failing to generalize/overfitting could end the world, etc), but MIRI has used these true problems of machine learning to make a case that I think doesn’t follow. i.e. you should give money to MIRI, MIRI has a unique roll to play…

    I think this is a very specific type of being a crackpot, confusing science for engineering. See this:

    • HeelBearCub says:

      That is well done.

      It seems like you may have renamed the old distinction between research and applied science? Or do you think there is more to it than that?

      Also, on “clickers”, my father did a great deal of work on effective teaching during his time teaching Econ. He is a proponent of using clickers, especially in Econ. He has used them to do quite a number interesting things. I could try and direct you to that if you are would find it useful.

      • Professor Frink says:

        That isn’t my post, it’s something that showed up on Hacker News awhile ago. It just made the point I wanted to make.

    • gbdub says:

      But I think Scott’s major point is that Taubes may be important / useful for moving “mainstream research” out of obscure journals and into the public conciousness, even if his “original” work isn’t very good. “Not controversial” emphatically does not mean “well known”.

      And I think he’s right – there are a lot of barriers between “mainstream” science and the actual “mainstream” that most non-scientists swim in, and I think there’s value in delivering information around these barriers.

      Let’s say a bunch of astronomers conclude, “there’s probably a big Kuiper belt object of roughly X mass in this general area”. No one has issue with this, but no one has the time/interest/money to go look for it, and the public knowledge of it is nil. Some crackpot amateur gets obsessed with this problem, manages to find direct evidence, and says “Eureka I’ve found it, it’s over here! And it’s probably populated by aliens, which is why we haven’t found it before!” This brings the Kuiper belt object into public knowledge and lots of people find out about it, more sober scientists start talking about the reality of it, and in general the average person knows a lot more about the Kuiper belt than they did before.

      Does the amateur deserve zero credit for the discovery, simply because others had put forth the hypothesis? Or because of the “alien” part?

  34. K. says:

    Wipond argued that psychiatrists irresponsibly promoted a narrative in which depression was a simple serotonin deficiency and so taking Prozac would quickly and elegantly solve the problem. I told him that actually, no, the psychiatric community wasn’t saying that at all, which was why every single example he thought he could find of that turned out to be a garbled out-of-context quote which when investigated honestly was clearly saying the opposite. I got a lot of angry comments that no, people were very sure their doctor had told them that depression was a simple serotonin deficiency.

    I can’t help noting how much this sounds like every time Scott opines that feminism is 100% fundamentally based on the most toxic memes associated with Tumblr social justice culture, and someone who knows what they’re talking about tells him that no, feminism is a really important intellectual tradition he is badly misinterpreting, and Scott insists that no, really, he’s read all sorts of feminist books and they really are all about bullying people.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Someone must have been telling lies about Scott A., for without having done anything wrong, he was accused of grievous offenses against feminism one fine morning.

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        Possibly the most serious criticism of feminism I can level right now is a significant subset who considers ANY criticism whatsoever to be unforgivable, then they have to strawman the hell of people who really are just trying to point out issues rather than act like reactionary fuckwits. (you think Scott is getting it, HA! I once saw a feminist forum bombarded until the mods quit because they admitted Intercourse, a book about how all heterosexual sex is rape, was batshit insane).

        • Nita says:

          Eh, you do realize that fans of Intercourse (radical* feminists) are a very unpopular minority within feminism, right?

          * Note: “radical” here doesn’t mean “very extreme”, but refers to their belief that patriarchy is the root of all oppression (get it?).

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            I get the concept though liking Dawkins is completely outside my experience with big R Radical Feminists (though they are also pretty different than what you read in historical accounts of the 60s and 70s, so the label is convoluted). In fact they’re the single least prone to this sort of behavior subset of feminism I’m aware of, one of them actually called me out for steelmanning ‘male gaze’. What you describe, patriarchy is the root of all oppression, is also what I’m told by academic philosophers is the mainstream humanities view of patriarchy (I was given specifically).

            By taxonomy of feminism aside, that’s not the point. The point is that criticism of Dawkins was used as an excuse to successfully push out a group of feminist moderators on the grounds that they were secretly MRAs and replace them with a subset of their own thinking who now have control over what’s acceptable to say (and criticizing Dawkin’s isn’t on the menu).

            You can fall back on this being an extreme minority all you like but it’s not a matter of numbers. It’s a matter of power, and of will. The fringe minority, or screaming majority (I DON”T CARE WHICH) has the will to fight until they win on the people with actually pretty good ideas have ceded power to them in the public sphere.

            Seriously, i don’t care which, given the choice between two political parties, one of which is 99% screaming whackjobs and 1% brilliant rational minds and the other is 99% moderate people and 1% spineless and corrupt, which one are you going to take if only the 1% that’s truly dedicated runs for office? It’s NOT the numbers that are the problem, it’s whose ending up in charge, and the willingness of people who aren’t bullies and diehard blue tribe partisans to refuse to let them get away with it. I do find that in people who actually do things. In the people who talk about things its not going nearly as well.

            I this will all go away when the popularity bubble around feminism bursts, but that’s not an ideal solution. Popularity of feminism provides opportunity but people would rather write (and I guess read) about how air conditioning is sexist rather than about how blinded auditions accounts for most of the increase in women in orchestras even when its only the first round and maybe we should stop making gender literally the first thing people learn about job applicants.

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            Scott: when you fish my response out of the spam filter can you fix my completely messed up link formatting?

          • CJB says:

            “Eh, you do realize that fans of Intercourse (radical* feminists) are a very unpopular minority within feminism, right?”

            As in “fans of that specific book”? Perhaps. As in “people that believe in radical bullshit, and tend to organize witchhunts?”

            *Shrug* Stuff like this happened in my Feminism 101 course in college back in 2007. We (mostly they, but I went along for parts of the ride at the start, to my eternal shame) tried and possibly (long time ago) got a dean fired over an unsourced claim that they’d not dealt with a claim of rape effectively enough.

            This wasn’t at Berkley, or Oberlin- this was a not-particularly-liberal small liberal arts school that had been Baptist until a few decades before. These were people in a basic three credit course on Feminism- and looking back, I can see pretty much all the same radical roots of modern radical feminism in what I learned. Same lies (Wage gap, rape rates) same unsourced claims, same radical writers….same everything.

            Theodore Dalyrymple had a good line about drug addicts he’s treated: “I met many people who fell in with the wrong crowd but never any members of the wrong crowd itself.”

            I keep hearing about allllll these feminists that hate all these radicals- and then you find out that only about 1/5 people and less than 1/4 women identifies as “feminist” and you start to think that maybe, just maybe- the radicals are the majority of people calling themselves “feminist”.

            Maybe, I suppose, going by the old “dictionary definition” canard, but that’s BS and we both know it.

            There is no difficulty whatsoever in finding media outlets catering to the middle of the road- CNN rather famously- WaPo and NYT tend to have pretty good balance. These are all huge, because theres a huge market for “middle of the road” articles for middle of the road people.

            Even within political sides, there’s always people making money on niche markets- National Review and VDare cater to very, very different markets.

            There is no such outlet for feminism. Which is odd- you’d think un-radical feminists would send beaucoup clicks to a site that was like Jezebel, but for normal people. That Amanda Marcotte would be the equivalent of say, well- Dalrymple, and the Guardian;’s feminist columnist would be one of these sensible, non-radical feminists I hear praised so often and see so little.

            But every significant outlet that tags itself feminist, and every single significant feminist, is a radical.

            That says something about where the Feminist Clicks and Dollars and Eyes are coming from.

          • Nita says:

            @ CJB

            I’m just saying, there’s a difference between “you should be fired because you failed to kick out an alleged rapist” (some people would agree with this, some wouldn’t) and “you should be fired because you don’t believe all het sex is rape” (practically no one would agree with this).

            Also, “radical feminism” is a specific branch of feminism with specific beliefs, so maybe try something like “feminist extremism” for what you’re talking about? Otherwise it’s just confusing. (I know, it’s not your fault that “radical feminism” is already taken — but hey, that’s language for you.)

    • Deiseach says:

      The thing is, there are different strands of feminism. I’ve lost count what version we’re on now (I stopped after Third Wave) plus there are the very radical, political and politicised versions in every flavour (Queer! WOC! Intersectionality!) you could wish.

      I think I’d call myself a feminist (mainly because when I read things about “All feminists want to castrate men” and that is not meant metaphorically but literally, it annoys the ever-living hell out of me) but by certain metrics I’m not a feminist at all but a self-hating, internally-misogynised, oppressive tool of the patriarchy quisling (mainly because I don’t support abortion “rights” and reproductive justice, and when I see women like Wendy Davis and Elizabeth Warren shilling for PP it doesn’t give me the electric tingle up my leg that I’m supposed to get about how wonderful and brave they are).

      So Scott may well have read feminist books that are hectoring and bullying and basically say “Unless you’re XX chromosome possessing, you are scum who should die in a fire”. I’m sure they are plenty of those out there. But it’s not the whole story by any means. What really converted me to “Hey, yeah, I’m a feminist!” was Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex because there were things she was writing about that resonated with me and that I could recognise in my own life – I certainly don’t agree with everything she says, by any means, but the notion of “woman as a mirror” certainly struck me (and I think sites like Heartiste’s yearn for this kind of relationship as well, women as mirrors to men, though it’s all about teaching men how to find, catch and keep a female of their very own if that’s what they want). Germaine Greer, not so much. Naomi Wolf, not at all. Whoever the new popular face of mainstream feminism is today, I have no idea 🙂

      • Tarrou says:

        We are, of course, all free to label ourselves however we like. It is foolish, however, to then assert that one should be free of association with all the other people who claim that label. I do this myself because the closest accessible political grouping to my actual beliefs is “libertarian”, even though it is an incredibly diffuse group, and most people have a pretty dim view of the party, some for terrible reasons, some for very good reasons.

        When it comes to feminism, I know some wonderful people who claim feminism for themselves. I know (or know of) thousands of mouth-breathing imbecilic sexual supremacists who seem to control the direction of feminism. I have never seen more than one self-described “feminist” ever take a stance in favor of men or masculinity in its own right (shout outs here to Paglia, Sommers, Hoyt and the like). Despite all the claims of “equality”, I have never seen the movement of feminism attempt to correct or draw attention to parts of our society in which women have an advantage over men. I have seen the movement of feminism blatantly fabricate loads of data to further disadvantage men at every opportunity.

        So if you feel the need to claim the mantle of congenital liars, bigots and cultural marxists who, if your stances are as they are claimed, will turn on you with more fury than they ever will me, by all means.

        We should all be capable of distinguishing the individual from the group.

        However, the question you should ask yourself is how deep that identification goes? Is the label “feminist” core to your being? Or is it a tangential descriptor of a few opinions? As I said above, I often identify as “libertarian”, but that is an identity only as deep as it is descriptive. I have other, far more salient identities. I suspect you do as well.

        • Deiseach says:

          Tarrou, I’m a Catholic. This means I am bound in filial obedience to acknowledge that, for example, Nancy Pelosi (not having formally defected) is still a Catholic just as I am (we’d both be equally thrilled about that). If you like (why not? everyone else does!) throw in the Borgia popes, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Pornocracy, works righteousness, selling indulgences, superstition and idolatry and anything else that takes your fancy.

          I am also, God help and be merciful to me, a Fianna Fáíl supporter. The party would be greatly improved if a functional time machine could be invented and the movers and shakers who got into power over the past, let us say, thirty or so years were hanged by the neck from a sour apple tree before they could run amok with their greed, cronyism, corruption, naked opportunism, contempt for the values they pay lip-service to and general ruination of the principles of the party and the service of the nation: think Joyce’s quote about “Not alone selling their country, but going down on their knees thanking God they had a country to sell” about a certain strain of Irish politics, or indeed the lyrics to “Dark Horse on the Wind”:

          Now charlatans wear dead men’s shoes, aye and rattle dead men’s bones
          Ere the dust has settled on their tombs, they’ve sold the very stones
          Oh then rise, rise, rise, dark horse on the wind
          For in no nation on the earth more Pharisees you’ll find

          I’m well accustomed to “Just because some total eejits have made a hames of the thing is no reason for me to give up on it or relinquish any claims”. Every time some “congential liar, bigot and cultural Marxist” makes some outrageous statement that has me going “That’s it, if that’s feminism I’m not a feminist”, somebody on the other side makes a remark about women that makes me reference Rebecca West (again, somebody with whom I probably would not be 100% in agreement on every thing):

          I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute.

        • Jane says:

          BS you know or know of thousands of people much less thousands of feminists. I have my doubts that you know any.

    • Peter says:

      every time Scott opines that feminism is 100% fundamentally based on the most toxic memes associated with Tumblr social justice culture

      Citation needed.

      The closest I can find is the paragraph at the top of section III of, but with that, his claims are “problem X is pervasive within feminism, and not confined to the Toxic Tumblrati” rather than saying “feminism is 100% fundamentally based on…”

      If you can’t do substantially better than that, then I think your claims about Scott are neither true nor kind nor necessary.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      I’m a Feminist along with those who got the Married Womens’ Property Act, the right to vote, divorce, some women in Congress, credit records in our own name, Planned Parenthood, etc. Extreme in now wanting women to be at least 51% of … yanno.

      I can’t believe that the SJW types have trashed our name with everyone.

      • Tarrou says:

        They have with the younger generations. Old people still cling to the identities of their youth. “Feminism was about voting when I joined up!” That’s great, grandma, but feminism today, right now, is about hypervelocity internet slander, calling absolutely everything “rape” and blatant misandry. It’s like the old socialist hands standing over the ruins of Czechoslovakia in 1968 talking about how “real” socialism wouldn’t be machine-gunning civilians in the streets. Pedantry and silliness.

    • Tarrou says:

      “Every time”? Link to just one.

    • vV_Vv says:

      I keep hearing this defense that Tumblr/SJW feminists are just a vocal minority while mainstream feminist is a different thing.

      However, I tend to believe that this is a No true Scotsman. There are very few notable feminists who don’t subscribe to the SJW ideology, both in terms of object-level beliefs (Patriarchy theory, rape culture, privilege-oppression axis, etc.) and in terms of (anti-)epistemological rules (ad hominem (“check your privilege!”), confirmation and sampling bias (“subjective experience”), politically motivated contradictory beliefs (biology doesn’t matter when it comes to race and gender gaps, but gay and trans people are “Born that Way” because something something phantom limb syndrome…)).

      You can probably count the notable self-described feminist authors that don’t fit the mold on one hand (Christina Hoff Sommers, Cathy Young, and…?) and they are often accused by feminists of not being true feminists™.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        >and they are often accused by feminists of not being true feminists™.

        If only they were so benign, the accusations I see thrown around are usually more akin to “Anti-Feminist” or “AEI Shill”.

        And they might be true! But then retreating to the motte would be markedly more difficult.

      • Jane says:

        “Notable” is doing an awful lot of work in there. Notable to whom? Notable to college kids trying on radical political beliefs as a means of exploration? And to those with the unhealthy hobby of going to obscure corners of the internet in order to find political views that horrify them?

        There’s 57 million Americans who self identify as feminist. I suggest you close your browser window and meet some of them face to face. You and the rest of the obsessed-with-SJWs crowd have managed to get yourself stuck in a cul de sac and have an inaccurate mental model of reality.

        • Peter says:

          “Obscure corners of the internet” for many seems to mean that little-known site “Facebook” (or Livejournal or Dreamwidth) and “things my friends link to on Facebook”; it would also mean “Twitter” too except I tend not to be active there. Sure, it’s not as bad there as it is on Tumblr (which I largely avoid these days, except for Slate Star Scratchpad), but many of the things that are exemplified in the more toxic parts of Tumblr also seem to be present elsewhere in more dilute forms. For Facebook, installing FBPurity (and turning off retweets on Twitter) seems to be a good way to avoid the worst of it (there appear to be a few who I just have to unfollow), and for me this seems to be important for my mental health. Alas you can’t get FBPurity for the Android FB app, which kind of means I should be cautious about using it, as it sets off my GAD (there, I’ve said it, you can dismiss everything I have to say now). This is all a shame, as a) I don’t like to having to protect myself from my friends, and b) I miss out on a bunch of interesting links that way, but sometimes you just have to look out for yourself.

          One thing I notice quite a lot is that people will often link uncritically to things rather more… strong… than they’d say themselves, and also people generally tend to be much better about things face-to-face than on the internet. I do sometimes worry about what one person in particular who I get on pretty well with face-to-face – and 50+% of the time on Facebook – would say if she knew what I really thought about a bunch of issues. That said, my worries may in part be the GAD talking – it’s hard to tell.

          For me, this doesn’t always seem to have been the case; I used to like feminists on the internet (as in feminists qua feminists, not just “she’s great, even on FB, except when she’s repeating vexatious memes”) – well, most of them anyway. Something seems to have changed about 2008, 2009 or so. Or maybe it was my perceptions… but I think some other people have seen the same thing too on similar timescales.

          I’m a frikkin’ liberal, not just a liberal, but a paid-up, card-carrying Liberal (well, LibDem, but they used to be the Liberals). I don’t like not being OK with the more visible manifestations of contemporary feminism. There’s actual important stuff for femininism to be addressing, that in between the vexatious bits it is addressing, and I want to be on board with the movement as a whole. But I can’t. When I found that I was repeatedly resorting to sleeping pills to get to sleep after reading nasty things that various internet feminists (mainly bloggers) were saying about people like me, something had to give. And one of the things that slowly became clear after things gave is that although the toxic stuff is most concentrated in some places (hello Tumblr) similar things seem to be present in more dilute form much more widely, and people who don’t actively push the toxic stuff themselves will sometimes defend it when challenged. Or maybe I’m just living in a weird “liberal” (except I think that the problem with quite a lot of the bad stuff is that it’s actually illiberal) bubble.

          • Jane says:

            I don’t think having GAD invalidates everything you say.

            What I’m saying is that social media and blogs and so on are the problem. Not a giant movement out there among tens of millions of people that have all decided that all men are evil and have adopted cartoonish level tactics to bring down the patriarchy. You yourself said that the very same people are fine face to face. So just close the browser window.

            That’s a much more satisfying and useful action than seeking this stuff out, then going elsewhere on the web (i.e. here) and ranting about how all modern feminism is really SJW in disguise and these people are the greatest threat to western civilization since Hitler!!1!

            Unlike having GAD, that really is a good reason to dismiss everything else you have to say.

          • Peter says:

            Did you not notice the bit where not only wasn’t I seeking the stuff out, I was actively taking technological measures to avoid seeing it? Perhaps you think my technological measures aren’t enough? That I should be taking more of them? Do you want to push me off the internet entirely, or at least that part that fits into a browser window, or social media, or whatever? You appear to be trying to be good about GAD, but your actions appear to belie you. Perhaps I’ve misinterpreted you. Maybe I’m being too literal.

            I’ve got as much right to use social media as the next person, mostly I use it for a wide variety of stuff like keeping up with friends, various interests, etc.. OK, here, I suppose I ended up a regular because I felt that Scott was a guy who knew how I felt, but I stay for all sorts of things, discussions of everything from AI to the efficacy of deworming interventions in Africa. Yeah, contra the Social Model, my GAD is mostly my own responsiblility, but not entirely – for example, the UK taxpayer pays most of the cost of my medication, and, y’know, it would be nice if social media were a bit more accessible than they are now. But hey, we’re in that murky area where one person sees rights and the other person sees a sense of entitlement. But I can have a grumble every now and again, can’t I? And defend others who are having similar gripes (Erm. If you’re looking for a vulnerability, here’s your chance. I’m worried whether I’m being hypocritical here. I tend to take the position that complaints may be taken literally; if someone’s complaints are off-target then defense is legitimate, if someone takes the care to formulate their complaints precisely and accurately and does a good job then careful reflection is called for. There are some legitimate gripes against Scott (some of which Scott has acknowledged as legitimate), K.’s gripe at the head of the thread isn’t one of them. EDIT NOTE I rephrased that last sentence as the previous version was ambigious.)

            I’m not 100% sure who your third paragraph is addressed to, but seeing as you mention “a good reason to dismiss everything else you have to say”, I’m taking it as addressed specifically to me. Please point out, paragraph and line, where I said that all modern feminism is really SJW in disguise. I may have said that much of modern feminism contains the same/similar problems found on Tumblr etc. (I tend not to say SJW, these days because of in dilute form, that’s a different thing, there’s a difference between thing A pervading/being widespread througout thing B, and thing B being based on thing A. And as for “the greatest threat to western civilization since Hilter”, well, really.

            Those “cartoonish level tactics” you mention – well, misrepresenting people is a prime example of this. Like I say, the toxic stuff exemplified by the Tumlbrati, but here in dilute form. Also: finding bogus reasons to dismiss everything someone has to say when they offer a challenge. OK, to be fair, lots of people do that, it’s very far from something being specific to contemporary feminism.

            I’ll give you one thing though, you do recognise that there’s an identifiable sector where there are problems there to be found. Now I’d like people to realise the problems go beyond that sector, but while I’m wishing I’d like a pony too, so I’d settle for a loud, aggrieved and heartfelt “But we’re not like that!” followed later, when people have gone their separate ways, by the emergence of a nagging little voice of doubt at the back of the mind that keeps saying “we really aren’t like that are we? are we? that thing I was thinking of doing/saying, might that be like that? best not, I want to hold onto my claim of not being like that…”

          • Cauê says:

            Is there an established term for a straw-strawman, or metastrawman or something?

            I don’t see people who actually think that feminists “have all decided that all men are evil and have adopted cartoonish level tactics to bring down the patriarchy”, or at least not anywhere near as often as I see feminists defending against such accusations.

          • Jane says:

            Cauê did you miss vV_Vv’s grandparent post?

            Peter, I think maybe we have different commenting styles. I wasn’t narrowly tunneling on your comment and doing a fisking style response. I tend to think of these things as more of a flowing conversion. To the extent something doesn’t apply to you, it doesn’t apply to you.

            As for everyone having the right to use social media, that’s true, but if it is harming you then it makes sense to avoid it. FWIW I say the same thing to people going on and on about gamer gaters. Sure if they are calling your house at all hours of the night with death threats than that’s unavoidable and you need to bring in the police, but if they are saying mean things about you on twitter, it’s tough for me to see that as a national issue that needs to be addressed. Adolescents are assholes, news at 11.

            My larger point is that in _general_ I think many on here (maybe not you) have overblown notions about the importance and dangers of radical feminists/SJW what have you. The same handful of stories about people being fired or kicked of school circulate again and again. In the newer thread you have posters seemingly non-ironically comparing these “movements” to communism.

          • Cauê says:

            Cauê did you miss vV_Vv’s grandparent post?

            I didn’t. Where’s the “hate all men” in there? Would you say that “(Patriarchy theory, rape culture, privilege-oppression axis, etc.)” qualifies? I don’t.

            And would you describe “(anti-)epistemological rules (ad hominem (“check your privilege!”), confirmation and sampling bias (“subjective experience”)” as “cartoonish level tactics to bring down the patriarchy”?

            If so, that would be good news to me. And if most feminists agree, that’s great, we should all unite to get the Tumblr-style SJW out of positions of influence in education and government, then.

        • vV_Vv says:

          And in the 1930s-1940s there were X million Germans who self identified as Nazi but did not personally kill anybody. Most Nazi were good people and the mass murders were carried out by a small and active minority of radical SSs. Therefore, it would be wrong to judge Nazism by the actions of this small minority.

          Yes, Godwin’s law, and I’m exaggerating, but my point is that membership in a political movement is voluntary and political movements are judged by the actions of those who actually act.

          If feminist activists do things like hounding people out of work for thoughtcrime and lobby for no due process in rape cases, then it does not matter if there is a silent majority of feminists who privately don’t participate in those actions and may even personally disagree with them. Feminism as a movement will be judged by the actions of feminist activists.

        • Jane says:

          I guess that must mean it makes sense to say that Christians are all about killing abortion doctors and MRAs are in favor of shooting up college campuses full of co-eds who didn’t spontaneously decide to have sex with them?

          • John Schilling says:

            For every Christian who kills an abortion doctor, one can trivially find a million Christians who, in the name of their faith, actually do unambiguously good and charitable things. And I’m not exaggerating with the million-to-one ratio there; you set the standard with “killing abortion doctors”, and I will correctly assert that Christians are about negative one million times as evil as you give them credit for. IIRC, the hospital our host works at was founded by Christians acting in the name of Christ.

            With feminism, you’re going to want to showcase what the good feminists are actually doing. Because if feminism is 95% people saying “I’m a feminist because I believe warm fuzzy things about people not doormat, and because feminism did good stuff in the past, and I support the other feminists who do good stuff today”, and 5% people actually doing evil stuff, then feminism is evil and the best that can be said about it is that it is a wishy-washy banal sort of evil.

            Good beliefs + evil actions = evil. Good actions in the past + evil actions now = evil now. Good actions now + evil actions now, we can talk about the balance. What would you like us to consider in the area of good actions now?

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >and MRAs are in favor of shooting up college campuses full of co-eds who didn’t spontaneously decide to have sex with them?

            Well, I’m glad DrBeat is currently banned, because otherwise he’d be getting banned again right about now.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Bad analogies. Christians leaders and activists (e.g. priests, pastors, group leaders) generally don’t kill abortion doctors and in fact publicly condemn such acts. You can’t honestly claim that Christian activism is primarily notable for abortion doctor killing, or even that abortion doctor killing constitutes a significant part of Christian activism.

            I have no idea what you have in mind with your MRAs and college campus shooting connection, I’ve never heard of a MRA doing or advocating such acts.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I have no idea what you have in mind with your MRAs and college campus shooting connection, I’ve never heard of a MRA doing or advocating such acts.

            She’s talking about the late Elliot Rodgers, whom feminists regularly describe as an MRA in an attempt to discredit the movement.

          • Jane says:

            John, was the hospital founded within the last 20 years or is this one of thouse double standard things?

            As for good works done by feminists I guess helping rape victims and victims of domestic violence doesn’t count because those problems have already been solved, and the real remaining issues are men unfairly accused of rape and domestic violence, right?

            vV_Vv you assume the conclusion. You’ve decided that riotgrrl21 on tumblr and anadjunct professor of women’s studies at University of Dayton are the leaders and activists of feminism and that’s that.

            Elliot Rogers was an MRA. I’m sorry if you find that fact inconvenient.

          • Jane writes: “Elliot Rogers was an MRA.”

            Never having heard of him before this thread, I did a quick Google search. Assuming that MRA means “men’s rights activist,” I could find no evidence to support your claim. Can you offer some?

            He seems to have been an angry man frustrated over the fact that other men got sex and he didn’t. He complained that that happened in spite of his being a gentleman, which sounds like the opposite of what I would expect an MRA to complain about.

            Where did he campaign for the cause of men having greater rights or complain that men in general (as opposed to him in particular) were oppressed?

          • John Schilling says:

            Helping victims of rape and domestic violence is definitely something modern feminists would want to showcase. The help offered to rape victims, in particular, is something I don’t recall hearing much about in the past decade or so, and it would go a long way towards countering the negative perception of feminists w/re rape.

            This, I think, would be a much more fruitful approach than comparing yourselves to Christians who haven’t done anything in the past twenty years except kill abortion doctors.

          • vV_Vv says:


            Things like affirmative consent (i.e. guilty until proven innocent) rape laws, Duluth model (i.e. the man is always wrong) domestic abuse laws, affirmative action quotas in the public and private sector, etc. are not the action of some edgy kid on Tumblr or some obscure adjunct professor.

            Jessica “I bathe in male tears” Valenti and Amanda “[people who supported the accused in the Duke Lacrosse rape scandal are] rape-loving scum” Marcotte (also known for the hatchet job on Scott Aaronson) are not random Tumblreinas, they write on professional blogs and contribute to some of the largest newspapers.

            Anita “video games promote violence on women” Sarkeesian is not a random youtuber, she has appeared on TED talks and TV shows, and received tens of thousand dollars funding from Intel.

            And so on.

            There is ample evidence that SJW feminism is not limited to a few net loons and academics, but it is instead the dominant ideology of modern mainstream feminists, and it has substantial political clout.

            As for Elliot Rodger (the “misogynistic” killer who killed four men and two women), as far as I can tell, he posted in an anti-PUA subreddit, and somehow this has been distorted by various media outlets into him being a MRA.
            It’s almost like there is some large and powerful movement which thinks it deserves the monopoly on all gender discussion that used a tragedy to dishonestly discredit a competitor…

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Elliot Rogers was an MRA. I’m sorry if you find that fact inconvenient.

            It is a shame Dr. Beat is banned; he would be the right man to debunk this nonsense. Alas, we shall have to make due with quoting what he said the last time this subject came up:

            Elliot Rodger had literally and not figuratively nothing to do with the MHRM. He did not go to MHRM websites, he did not use MRA terminology, he did not talk about MHRM issues, he showed no so sign of MRA influence whatsoever, and the entire point of his tirade and rampage was based in an idea that MRAs completely and openly reject: the idea that a man’s worth is dependent on his ability to get sexual attention from women.

            Elliot Rodger was as much of an MRA as he was a Mennonite.

            He became a “symbol” of how bad MRAs are due entirely to feminists wanting to claim that people who aren’t them are responsible for all bad things. There was nothing the MRM could have done about him because they didn’t know he existed; it is not an illustration of how hard it is to police your movement from crazies, it is an illustration of how little you can do to defend yourself if feminists decide to lie about you.

  35. Steve Sailer says:

    In general, people get angriest at heretics with such obviously high credentials that they clearly aren’t crackpots: e.g., Harvard President Larry Summers in 2005 or Nobel Laureate James D. Watson in 2007.

  36. Someone does a study on Tibetans and says “it looks like they’re adapted to their mountain environment, but that would require really fast evolution, which we all know practically never happens, so it’s probably some weird fluke.”

    I sometimes think this problem is not just to do with contrarianism, but is in actual fact a coordnation problem in academic research. On of the most surprising thing in academia is that almost all research in academia is done by individuals or superficial teams of 2-5 indiviudals. So for the above issue, it makes total rational sense for the individual to think this and to not bother to investigate, but for the field as a whole, it introduces a coordnation failure not totally different to a tradgedy of the commons. Luckily doing lit reviews are a thing, but given that some problems are probably beyond the complexity that can be captured by a single one-person study. For example the Stanford Prisoner Experiment being run by maybe 5 people is probably the biggest I’m aware of in social psychology. Sure there’s lots of people replicating stuff piecemeal, but there’s no actual coordination. It’s just thousands of people nursing their own pet theories and tiny research projects. I get that there is exceptions, but if you’ve had much to do with academics, you know its not the norm in most fields.

    Commercial research probably doesn’t suffer from this problem as much, because the company can coordinate the
    research. Still, given that commercial research totally fails at a lot of high hanging fruit and pure research topics, it’s surprising we don’t have academic mechanisms that could solve this. My instinct is temporary hierachical teams, with problems being broken up by a team leader, and components of the research being assigned to people based on their expertise, biases, strengths, weaknesses etc. Or it could be a case of people spending 50% of their research time in service of their collegues research, and then vice versa. I’m not sure.

    Of course academic personalities tend towards the loner research, so I’m not sure it isn’t just personalities getting in the way of this. And the individualality facilitates exactly the contrarianism that’s needed for challenging accepted paradigms. But at least some of the time it would be nice for academia to work in a more coordinated way. I feel like someone needs to do some… uh… research on how this could be done effectively.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Isn’t a large problem here the incentive structure?

      Research is built on grant funding. Continued employment in academia is built on publishing. Correct?

      Neither funding nor publishing are built to reward either replication or negative outcomes. Continuing to advance in your career then seems dependent on only going after what you think will bear fruit, not the systematic corner cases.

      • I think you’re right that your suggestions could improve the reward structure. “Nothing interesting found” probably benefits the process of systematic research as much or more than most claims of “my discovery will change the field forever”, but we provide incentives that encourage the opposite.

        For less systematic research where the next research task is non-obvious, I think there’s a fairly fundamental problem with creating a reward structure for anything non-commercialisable. The problem in at least some cases there’s no flag that confirms the truth has been successfully found, other than the details of the research that you’re incentivising. Generally the real ground-breaking stuff isn’t recognised until after there’s been years and years of arguing.

        I think you’re only strategy in that case is to try to breed/socialise/train scientists, academics and researchers who want to find the truth for its own sake. Monetising that subculture might actually destroy it, especially if researchers get desperate to protect their jobs. So maybe it should be a separate category of research.

        All this is orthagonal to the issue I pointed out to do with coordination. I think they’re both big issues and I agree with your point.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          All this is orthagonal to the issue I pointed out to do with coordination.

          I could be misunderstanding what you mean by orthogonal here, but I was with you until this. My contention is that whoever is trying to get funding for the broadly coordinated research will run into the problem of funding; therefore, funding mechanisms directly prevent the kind of coordination you would like to see.

          Those who are doing the coordinated work will run into the problem of career advancement. Most of them will be unable to publish and may kill their careers, therefore publishing/career advancement mechanisms directly prevent the kind of coordination you would like to see.

          Now, I’m sure some coordinated efforts that have joint payoff (I think the human genome project was one of these) don’t run into these issues. But broadly, I think career advancement and funding directly prevent what you would like to have happen. (Which I think sounds like a great idea).

          As an aside, I am assuming that political pressures play a part in this. Public institutions can’t afford to be seen as intentionally funding projects/paying people “to do nothing.”

          As an another aside, I only know researchers/faculty, I am not one myself. I am not speaking to any of this from deep familiarity.

          • Ah yes now I see what you are saying. I think coordination requires the changes you suggest, though the changes are not sufficient for it to occur.

            You’re right about the politics of it too. I wish I could think of a way around that… any ideas?

            I too wouldn’t want to claim to be anything like an expert here.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “You’re right about the politics of it too. I wish I could think of a way around that… any ideas?”

            Try and build a culture that accepts that good government is good and bad government is bad, but that, without the modifier, the word government doesn’t tell you much about how good a policy is?

            Try and develop a culture that accepts that “the perfect” really is the enemy of “the good”?

            Encourage pragmatism?

            None of these are very satisfying answers, I know.

          • While I I think we sometimes need a little perfectionism and aspiration to shake ourselves loose of complacency, in both business and government, I broadly agree with your sentiment of sensible pragmatism! I feel like with the state of politics as it is, our kind of sentiment is facing an uphill battle however. Or more like a cliff-face, lol.

  37. Shenpen says:

    Given that we know surgery works, shouldn’t we focus on food quantity, not what kind of food is eaten?

    I had exactly one succesful diet and it included a reduction of my appetite / food quantity. It was with a meal replacement shake, for 3 days no other food, for 7 days dinner allowed, for another 7 dinner and lunch. It ended up reducing my appetite so much that now lunch was 1/4 chick breast and salad, formerly it was between 1/2 and a whole chickek breast and potatoes.

    I am not saying eating a low quantity of shit food (see the infamous Twinkie diet) is overally healthy, nobody does, people really need to fuck off from fast food. But a lower quantity of homecooked traditional European food should do the trick…(traditional American food is more problematic: ham on honey, barbecue with sugary sauce and so on).

    • gbdub says:

      A subset of the “carbs bad” theory is that eating low carb results in a lower total caloric intake because you get less hungry eating low carb. So from that perspective, focusing on what kind of food is eaten IS focusing on food quantity.

  38. Here’s a contrarian/crackpot I’d love opinions on: Dr. Weston Price, author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration ( ) The Foundation promoting the book falls into my crackpot category, but they didn’t write the book.

    For that matter, on the IMO slightly more crackpot, how about Pottenger’s Cats? ( ) I haven’t read this one, but since the same people promote it, I’m curious.

    Thanks. 🙂

  39. Saul Degraw says:

    As always, I come to these threads late.

    I think the big issue with various diets is that there seems to be a lot of contrary information out there and now all these contrary diets are in the public information (because diet books sell) and I know a lot of true believers to a lot of different diets and you couldn’t do all of them. I know paleo people. I know people who do the butter coffee thing and seem to think that eating two pounds of butter a day plus lots of exercise is very healthy. They eat other things as well but they are sticklers on the butter.

    Seeing a trillion posts by a trillion different evangelists for contrary things is annoying.

    A lot of very intelligent and successful people can be crack-pots, look at Peter Thiel. I think his ideas on college approach crack-pottery or at least the way he is choosing to prove his point. The problem with the Thiel grants is that he is picking super-geniuses who would succeed in almost any environment. I’d like to see him do a Thiel grant with someone with normal or slightly above average intelligence who was not a scientist but wanted a career in business or something like that. Take kids out of high school and put them in marketing apprenticeships or finance apprenticeships, stuff like that. Don’t take the kid who understands particle physics like a grad student and then I might think he is on to something.

    Contrarianism has a bad rep because of #Slatepitch.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m not sure Thiel is wrong to use geniuses. I think part of his point is along the lines of “Isn’t it silly that we force geniuses to go to college even though they’re smart enough to do perfectly fine without it?”

  40. endril says:

    I made an attempt to refute Time Cube Guy about ten years ago. I carefully constructed every sentence in the simplest English I could manage, I created diagrams, the whole nine yards.
    His response was something like “Your ideas were stupid and a waste of my time.”

  41. Civilization4 says:

    Small point, but I feel like Eliezer & MIRI will definitely get credit if we make it. Your statement “But I fully expect future textbooks to say that Russell is a great hero for discovering AI risk single-handedly, and also there were some weird guys in Berkeley who gained superficial credibility by parroting Russell’s theories, but were really just silly people writing fanfiction.” implies people are still writing the textbooks with no help from the (by now, implied to be discovered) superintelligence. A superintelligence could figure out how important Eliezer was ;). Assuming he actually made a difference, which definitely seems likely if not through direct contribution then definitely at least through raising awareness.

  42. Parker says:

    The idea of the pyramid and scientific consensus tickled me so much that I decided to make an actual pyramid:

  43. Dean Esmay says:

    I was writing a very popular blog back then and did some research and writing on the low-fat diet hype and the value of low-carb diets too. I never overreached the way you describe Taubes doing, I only read a little of his stuff. I do think Taubes overreached more than once, however, you may not be accounting for something else in the “crackpot” category quite enough: hateful abuse by a real establishment. When I was writing online about the unhealthy effects often caused by low-fat diets, especially extreme low-fat diets, and of the value of low-carb diets including even Atkins, and of the value of saturated fats, I was often quite viciously and nastily attacked. And I mean real name-calling, really nasty attacks on my motives, accused of killing people and more. Oh yes, and repeatedly called a crackpot and an obsessive, for pointing both to my own experience and existing literature.

    So there’s also the psychology of the perpetually battered, those who are severely punished for challenging the currrent consensus. You say there’s no Galileo trials and you’re right–and by the way the Galileo trial wasn’t what people think it was anyway. But people do face witch hunts, I’ve seen it, and I’ve experienced it, for saying the current medical or scientific wisdom is wrong on something. And by the way, I’ve been proved right about some things and wrong about others–is that actually bad? It’s probably less-bad in my case than some only because I’m always quick to back down if I realize I may have made a hyperbolic or overdramatic statement, which some guys are better at than others.

    Taubes may have faced a lot of harassment and condemnation from people who were wrong about things he was right about. And it may have pushed him to overreach in his claims; the pressures of commercial publishers may also have pushed him and others to more extreme claims in order to raise more widespread attention to the issue–which is not something I endorse, it shouldn’t be endorsed, but it can happen, and I’ve seen establishmentarians do exactly the same thing in defending whatever orthodoxy they’re defending.

    Indeed, I’ve seen many “skeptics,” many so-called “debunkers,” who don’t reveal their own financial conflicts of interest and never seem to be challenged to climb down from their own overreaching statements. I’d give examples here but I don’t want to start a flame war.

    So perhaps you’re being a little too harsh. Of course, I’m known to use provocative language myself, and to be a contrarian, so perhaps I’m overdefending. But if we’re going to talk about hyperbolic contrarians, let’s also remember the realitiy of the hyperbolic and abusive establishmentarians–and the fact that they often have real money behind their assertions.

    I would also note that some of the most brilliant scientists who ever lived also frequently had other beliefs that they also defended but which also remain hugely questionable. Tesla’s a good example of that.

  44. jeff says:

    Seth Roberts used to write about insider-outsiders a lot, including Zamboni, the physicist whose wife had MS and so he claimed to have found that MS patients have weird vein structures in their heads that don’t drain as well. The theme of a lot of those were that the insider-outsiders usually have the training, don’t have the biases, and often have a stronger reason to care about the subject than the professionals.

    Insider-outsiders on Seth Roberts’ site

  45. Roko not-that-Roko Jelavić says:

    “It seems like a potentially important idea, which has small but nonzero evidence behind it, but which everyone nevertheless ignores, because it isn’t anybody’s business in particular. There are hundreds of things like this scattered across the literature in pretty much every field.”

    It seems to me like making a list of those ideas and advocating for research in those areas should be a thing people are working on. Are they, and if not, why not?

  46. Bob Murphy says:

    Hi Scott,

    Not sure if you are still checking this thread, but my observation is that I think it is extremely inappropriate to label Michael Behe a “crackpot.” Within those circles, it’s also incorrect (I believe) to call him a creationist, if that is taken to mean someone who believes in the literal 6-day creation story in Genesis.

    My understanding is that Behe is open to the possibility that all life on Earth is descended from a single cell ancestor billions of years ago, and that we can trace the history of terrestrial life forms through subsequent mutation and branching.

    Where Behe differs from the conventional Darwinian perspective is when the latter says, “We can explain all of this through a purely random process with no intentions.”

    Now to operationalize his approach, Behe introduced the idea of irreducible complexity. But he wasn’t (in my understanding) saying that God made the bacterial flagellum on Day 3 and the giraffe on Day 4. I think Behe is saying that you can’t plausibly tell a story in which inert matter just exploded out from a big bang billions of years ago, and gosh it’s just dumb luck that the environment happened to coalesce on this spinning blue ball such that the bacterial flagellum and the human nervous system popped out the other end.